Category Archives: Jose Sola

A mother of a day

I am writing this post on Mother’s Day eve, my shirt is filthy dirty, my fingernails are full of dirt, and my knees have the impressions of the wood chips I have been kneeling on as I plant our garden. In other words, I am happy!! IMG_8789

Just about every square foot of garden space has been planted or assigned for planting in the next week, for the first time I am ahead of the game.IMG_8784 IMG_8783 IMG_8668 IMG_8623 IMG_8652

This past week and a half the weather has been rather mild on Long Island, and since there was no imminent threat of frost I took the gamble and started putting some of the more tender plants in the ground last weekend. My tomatoes looked somewhat purplish at the beginning, a condition that can be caused by either lack of Phosphorus or by being exposed to too much cold and water.IMG_8616

I am not quite sure what did it, but after a few days with the mercury hitting in the upper 60’s (ºF) and having better soil to grow on than what was in their seedling cups,  they now look stronger and a healthier shade of green. Today I even started training them on to a string so they grow upright and without crowding each other.IMG_8776

As I had mentioned before, this year I am committed to growing more varieties in my homemade grow sacs. I really want to find out if these containers are a viable alternative for those with planting space limitations. I spent a few evenings making them, so our fleet of grow sacs has more than doubled this year. As of today we have 27 sacs in various sizes spread out in different areas of the garden. IMG_8764IMG_8691

All our peas, zucchinis and potatoes are being grown in this manner, but I also dedicated some sacs to grow a good portion of our cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, scallions and peppers.  If anyone is interested in learning how to make their own, leave me a comment.IMG_8759 IMG_8762 IMG_8787 IMG_8666

I wish all moms out there a wonderful day tomorrow and always.

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End of April, garden update

It’s been a while since I last updated everyone on the state of my garden. It seems I have spent more time than I originally thought necessary dog proofing not only my garden, but also building a 6′ fence to keep our pup in the yard, and then reinforcing it with wire at the bottom to prevent her from digging her way out.IMG_8491

However, little by little I am catching up on what I have to get accomplished in the garden before the start of the planting season the second week in May. As in previous years, I have changed a few things around to simplify the care of the plants and planting area, and the garden is starting to look pretty snazzy.IMG_8516 IMG_8517

Last year I had a bit of trouble keeping the green cabbage looper caterpillars at bay, in spite of the frequent use of neem oil spray they seemed to find their way into some of my cabbage and cauliflower and ended up destroying some of it. This spring I planted most of the brassicas in one of the narrow beds where I had sown lettuce seed last fall. I covered the bed with tulle fabric to prevent the white butterfly from laying her eggs on their favorite food plants.IMG_8478 IMG_8505IMG_8558

The construction of the tulle tunnel was very simple, I drove six 1/2″x3′ pieces of rebar into the ground, just outside the bed, leaving 3/4′ still out of the ground. I inserted the exposed rebar into pvc pipe forming 3 loops over the garden bed, over which now hangs the tulle.  I am holding the tulle in place with plastic shop clamps. The best thing about this arrangement is that I can raise the sides of the netting and keep it up out of my way as needed, and when the weather changes I can easily transform the tunnel into a mini greenhouse by simply replacing the tulle with plastic.IMG_8553 IMG_8557 IMG_8555

I have decided to grow some of the most aggressive climbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, cukes, out of the garden beds. I have already planted some seed in my homemade grow bags,  and have moved the net trellises away from the beds so they are free standing on the west side of the garden where I had some bamboo contraptions last year.IMG_8564

I am trying again to grow potatoes in bags, the experiment last year worked quite well, and even though we are not much of a potato consumer family, it makes for a great show if you have kids come and visit for a harvest celebration.IMG_8570 IMG_8568

The plastic that covered the greenhouse I used last year did not hold for another growing season. I picked up the frame and brought it up to the new fenced-in garden area, and re-covered it with thick plastic, it should hold for a while.IMG_8549IMG_8522

The compost pile I left cooking all winter has started to produce some black gold, but mining it had become an issue. The screen I had made a few years ago was a bit heavy duty,  it was also rather large and just plain heavy.  I always ended up with lower back ache after using it IMG_8563 IMG_8552

At the end of last season I made a new one out of a 10 gal Rubbermaid plastic tote. I simply cut a rectangular section off the bottom of the tote, inserted a piece of 1/2X1/2″ wire from the old screen, and fastened it with zip ties (best invention ever).  This new gadget is very light weight, it has nice handles, and can be easily lifted and shaken to separate the fine stuff. With the rest of the wire I made seedling protectors to keep squirrels and birds from digging where I have just planted.IMG_8559 IMG_8561IMG_8537 IMG_8538IMG_8562

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Back on the horse.

Agriculture above the 40º of latitude takes some degree of trust, specially for anyone like me who grew up in the tropics. Planning  a garden when the ground is covered by a two foot layer of ice and snow always feels much like taking the proverbial leap of faith. Nonetheless, a few weeks ago I waded in knee deep snow to gather all my equipment and left over supplies from last year, and officially declared open the 2015 gardening season by planting our first batch of seeds.IMG_7838 IMG_7843IMG_8225IMG_8223

I have since continued planting seed, one flat at a time,  and as of this morning I counted over 300 tiny pots most showing seedlings at different stages of growth and development. I have already started hardening some of the sturdier plants out in the sun, and by weeks end will probably have even the tomatoes and peppers out for a sun tan.IMG_8149 IMG_8140 IMG_8230 IMG_8386 IMG_8405 IMG_8406 IMG_8294IMG_8293

The only constant in our garden is that there is always change. This year I have a new challenge to overcome, our new pup, Panda, is the new master of our backyard. She is extremely curious, and has shown a a great affinity for vegetation. The only solution has been fencing the garden area off from the rest of the yard, something I was always against doing, but it is the only way keep everyone happy. Needless to say I had to fence not only the garden area, but also had to construct a fence to keep the dog in the backyard. All that has taken some focus away from my plantings, but I am sure I will catch up by Mothers’ Day.IMG_8241 IMG_8281

Our production goal for 2015 is 250 lbs of produce. This year I am staying away from fancy varieties and focusing more on the veggies we do like and consume. I will try to dedicate more growing area to grow bags, as these proved very effective last year. Let me know if you would like information on how to make your own.

Wish us luck, I will try to share my our experiences with all. Now go and play in the dirt.

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New love.

I did not plan on being there. I had no intentions of meeting any one. I was not looking for her, I swear. But I turned that corner, and she caught my eye. There was a small crowd gathered around her, engaging her, trying to get her attention. She is stunning, I thought as I got a second glance…I guess I have always had a soft spot for blue eyed girls.

Funny, one minute I am content with my life, the next I am thrown out for a spin.  I pretend to not to look at her, but I get closer. Look cool, look cool, don’t make eye contact…I noticed her looking at me…did she wink at me?   No! Can’t do that! Not at my age? What am I thinking of? What would Beth and the kids say? We’ve got plans… It is useless, now I am standing in front of her, she turns her head to look away from me, I cannot resist reaching out to touch her.

My hand is met by her shiny wet cold nose. She shyly licks my fingers, and I see a sign on the crate, it reads “Adopt me, PANDA”. The name fits like a glove, her striking gray-black markings on white fur do remind me of the cute bears, but her one ice-blue eye and bandit face mask give her an intriguing sort of mischievous look. “Do you want me to take her out of the crate” a nice volunteer offered. I am confused, I have resisted the urge to have a dog for over 30 years, I do not want any attachments, not now, we are almost empty nesters… “Yes, please” I answered immediately.

Her coat was as smooth as it looked. She felt a bit on the thin side, but looked alert and happy to be held. The lady let me pet her and said “she is only 4 months old, she needs a nice home”. Can’t do this, not without talking to Beth… “can I take her picture” I ask the lady, and right after send it as a text to Beth with a simple question “Yes?”. IMG_5969

No immediate response, few minutes pass NOTHING! It was a crazy idea anyways, it would not work, but I really want her, and Hunter has been asking for a dog since forever…No text back. “If I wanted to adopt her what do I have to do?” I ask the volunteer, somewhat not really sure what to do if she’d say ” here, just take her”. She gives me a form and tells me, “please fill this out first, and I’ll have the manager evaluate it”.

It was not easy, while I was filling out the form a couple had stopped to look at Panda, they wanted to fill an application too. I failed the adoption interview, the manager had to make sure all people in the household wanted a dog. Beth was nowhere to be found, and Hunter was at home, both of them clueless of what was going on.

I left the adoption tent, not even looking at any other dog. A few minutes later I got a call from Beth “so, what’s going on?”. I explained, and asked how soon could she get to the adoption tent. We agreed to meet back at the tent once I had a chance to get Hunter from home. I ran back to the tent to tell them I was bringing my family in but the manager told me “sorry, the couple that was here right after you is taking her, I have your number in case it does not work”.

On a hunch, I still decided to go home to get my son, and drive back to meet Beth at the tent as planned. When we got back, I see the couple walking outside with Panda and another dog. They recognized me, and came by “we went home to see if she would get along with our dog, I am not sure it will work” she tells me….Yeah!!

On our second interview with the manager, this time as a family, we nailed it! We were allowed to adopt her. Our older sons came home to meet her the day after we got her. They reacted as I had hoped, everyone has embraced her as a part of our family.IMG_5853 IMG_2034 IMG_2033

In two days, it will be 4 weeks since she moved in. What an awesome pup she is. We are still not sure what kind of parents she had (best guess is Husky-Terrier mix), or even how big she will end up being (the people from the shelter guessed about 70 lbs, but the vet thinks she will top off at 45 lbs). She is an active dog very strong and lightning fast. Panda is also very smart, in the short time she has been with us she has already trained us to a few-times-a-day walking routine, and for that she has rewarded us with very few mishaps in the house. IMG_5911 IMG_5932

We have also taken her hiking, and because of her we are finding more reasons to go out on a hike early in the morning on Sundays. We are all learning to play fetch, and even have fun going to the dog park.IMG_2976IMG_2975IMG_2964IMG_2990 IMG_5899 IMG_5948 IMG_5957

Owning a dog is certainly not easy, it is a long term commitment, but it feels like we were overdue for it. I have caught Beth a couple of times sitting of the floor petting and talking to Panda, they both seemed to be smiling.IMG_5777

 

Keeping It Real

Gardening season, even extended one, has about come to an end around here. We have had a couple hard freezes already. All left in the ground is about 6 square feet of assorted salad greens, and our 2015 garlic crop which I planted a couple of weeks ago (see video).

IMG_5734 IMG_5741All our beds are now covered for the winter, as pretty soon it will be way too cold to be enjoyable digging through our beds, or the ground will feel just like rock. In fact, as I write I am watching the news tracking the Noreaster that is about to lash us later this evening. We are in the far South East corner of New York State, and near the ocean, but trust me, we do get a fair amount of snow around here…So no matter how much we may want to continue gardening, we must stop and concentrate on enjoying what winter brings ahead, and at the same time dedicate some time to planning our future garden.IMG_5742 IMG_5743 IMG_5744

 

This year I was quite happy with our tiny farm. We not only had a great and long lasting season, but I kept busy experimenting with different plants and growing methods, and implementing interesting ideas. In the end we were able to harvest a fair amount of vegetables from most of the beds and pots. We reached a final production of 230 lbs of food, most of it got consumed fresh at home, but we were also lucky to have extra to share with some friends and neighbors. However, not everything grew as I had expected. Some plants did not make it or failed to amaze me with their production because I was not prepared to provide them optimal growing conditions, some others because I had false expectations. Below is my 2014 lessons learned and keeping it real list.

1) Beets, can’t grow them!! I better forget growing them.

2) Root air pruning containers are great to grow many plants, but not if too small. Never use pots less than 5 gal capacity.

3) Do not buy seed on impulse because the photo on the pack looks great. This is specially true with funky colored or odd shaped varieties of regular fruits and veggies, like multicolor bell peppers, super skinny eggplants, rainbow cauliflower, etc. I must stick to the basics, they usually grow better.

3) Location, location location… I should have known that, I am a Realtor…. plan where plants are to be grown, who is next to who? avoid competition, interference, inhibition…

4) Did we need so many Swiss chard plants?  what was I thinking?

5) I do like hot peppers, but my esophagus is not lined in asbestos…next year tone it down a notch, will you?

6) Never stop composting, it’s the name of the game!

7) Neem oil  does a lot of good. Spray, spray, spray, even when you can’t see any bugs.

I wish all a wonderful Thanksgiving, and a great gardening season to all of you in the tropics and Southern hemisphere.

 

 

 

 

It is our tiny farm

Woohooo!!!! As of this morning we have harvested a total of 201 lbs (91 Kg) of fresh and delicious vegetables from our tiny suburban farm. Although calling it a farm may be an overly optimistic exaggeration, as I have planted an area just under 200 square feet, and I have no livestock,  I makes me feel much better than calling it a garden. Our original hope of reaching a production of 150 lbs this season, has so far been surpassed by a heaping 30%, and if everything goes according to plan, we may even be able to reach the 250 lbs mark before winter arrives.IMG_5322 IMG_4140 IMG_3270

One pound of food per square foot of soil… not quite sure if I should brag about this or not, but the way I see it is that for one whole season, my family has been able to eat produce as fresh as it gets, knowing that no harmful chemicals have been used to grow them. Was it cheaper to produce them than to buy them? Well if you factor in the investment to build the raised beds, irrigation system, and other structures that I could not re purpose, probably not. But the way I see it, all that was an investment, not a cost, and the structures will still be there for a few more years.IMG_5337 IMG_5348 Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset IMG_5250

Our tiny farm provides us with much more than food, it is my laboratory, my school, and a place where I can be creative, daring and resourceful. It also makes me humble, I must admit not everything I try works every time, as a matter of fact I still have to grow one single beet to at least the size of a ping pong, or even smaller… Gardening has lit the fuse of my curiosity again, it has made me want to discover and learn new things, it has made me dig through (pun intended) and try to apply knowledge I gathered while working on fish farming a few decades ago, and best of all, it has made me want to share whatever little I learn or experience.IMG_2169 IMG_2140 IMG_2158

If you live in Suffolk County NY, let’s get together and exchange experiences and ideas over a cup of coffee. If you live elsewhere, let’s start talking, I really don’t bite. Please also visit, like and follow my facebook page.

 

 

 

A Harvest Celebration

A couple of weeks ago, our garden started showing definite signs of seasonal maturity, many plants were in full bloom, some others were steadily producing fruit, while a few, like the lettuces, had already called it quits. One very interesting group were those of the onion and garlic family, which after putting out their funky looking flowers were begging to be pulled out of the ground. It was time for a harvest party!

My two special guests were M and B, both 7 years old.  B you may remember from her internship last year, when she helped me by taking care of the garden (B Is The New Farmer In Charge.  and  Meet B Our Interim Farmer), and also  when she planted all the garlic bulbs (Planting Our 2014 Garlic Crop). I met M last fall, he is a member of the track team where I assist coaching. M is a great kid with a happy face and a curious mind, much like B.IMG_2173

I had thought of bringing B back to harvest the garlic she had planted, as a way for her to see the result of her work last fall. In conversation with M’s mom, I learned he had shown recent interest in gardening, so I thought he would perhaps also enjoy spending an afternoon picking fruit and veggies, and learning about worms, bees and where some of the food comes from.

It was a great afternoon, the stage was our garden, and mother nature set it up perfectly for us to find amazing goodies in every corner. We started by emptying out one of the soft containers where I grew potatoes. B and M had fun digging with their hands through the soft soil in the wheelbarrow looking for nice bright red potatoes.IMG_2140 IMG_2136 IMG_2141 IMG_2177 From there we moved to the zucchinis, tomatoes, and cucumbers searching for fruit ready to be picked. With amazement, they pulled carrots from the ground, and also picked beans from the vines.IMG_2144IMG_2146 IMG_2149

We stopped to look how the baby cantaloupes and water melons were forming, and made sure to smell some of the herbs growing. At the far end of our garden we found cabbages, onions and a small forest of garlic plants to pick from.IMG_2157

IMG_2165 IMG_2169We finished work by digging through a compost pile usually frequented by sub-foot long night crawlers to see who could find the biggest worm, and later took a look at how the worms in our worm farm recycle some of our kitchen waste.IMG_2175

It was a great afternoon, we gave the children bags to put in all their goodies to take home, and B proudly commented “I don’t eat any of this stuff…I am just taking it home for my family”. I often think how interesting it would be to include gardening as part of the elementary school curriculum, children could learn so much by getting their fingers back into the soil.  IMG_2153 IMG_2136 IMG_2158

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Why is my salad so awful?

It is officially mid-summer around here on Long Island NY.  The days are very hot, sticky and humid. Awesome weather if you are a plant I guess.  It is the kind of weather that makes you crave a cool refreshing salad with produce picked right off the garden. IMG_4272

Since our tomatoes have so far refused to turn any shade of red, we have been hitting our lettuces and the like pretty heavily. So much that some have now grown very tall and look like some sort of palm tree.IMG_4390

A few evenings ago I went out to collect an assortment of greens for a fresh dinner salad. I picked about a pound of leaves altogether. I had red ones, green ones, mottled ones, smooth ones and ruffled ones too, a good looking mixed bunch. IMG_4066

I washed it, spin dried it, chopped it, and then mixed it with cucumber I picked early that day, some red onion and store bought tomato.  For dressing I used a quick balsamic vinaigrette, nothing fancy but a favorite at our house.

I don’t think I exaggerate when I say our salad tasted as if I had made it with freshly picked oak leaves. Crunchy and fresh but awfully bitter.  After washing the taste with plenty of water, my mind rushed to the garden, what were we going to do with all that lettuce still out there? There was still plenty of lettuce, radicchio and Swiss chard to feed our family for a few days.  The thought of having to trash it all was not a happy one, I hate to waste food.IMG_4251

An online search on bitter lettuce will lead you to bolting lettuce, and will give you suggestions on how to prevent or minimize the bitterness in leafy greens. Below are some I have tried and somewhat seem to work for us.

Heat not only makes lettuce go to seed (bolting), but somewhat stresses the lettuce and that makes it taste bitter, so avoid picking leaves during or at the end of the day. I find it best to harvest the lettuce very early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to warm up too much. IMG_4388

Collect all the leaves in a container with cold water. I actually use water with ice cubes, as at this time of year the water coming out of the faucet never gets cold enough.IMG_4289 IMG_4362

Wash, select and hydrate the lettuce by placing the leaves right side up in a bowl with cold water for at least 6 hours.  We make mixed heads of lettuce by placing the smaller leaves in the center and surround them with larger leaves.IMG_4368 IMG_4305

Once the leaves are well hydrated, drain them and store them in the fridge inside zip lock bags.IMG_4392 IMG_4394

Of course, taking care of late season lettuce as detailed above does not make it as sweet as it was in the spring when it was young and tender, but certainly makes it a lot less bitter and definitely edible. Also, once you mix it with other vegetables and a nice salad dressing, any hint of leftover bitterness cannot be tasted. Nonetheless, avoid using the older tougher leaves, or stems of those greens that have turned fuzzy, those are definitely best in your compost.

Hope this works for you too, even if it gets you a couple more decent salads it is well worth it. In a few weeks you can start all over again with a new planting for fall and early winter harvest.

For more information on keeping lettuce check one of my older posts

Long Neck Swans

Yesterday we had a nice present from our garden. The long awaited for garlic scapes, the edible flowering bud of the garlic plants were finally here. They have striking shapes that resemble long neck swans posing very still at rest or ready to take flight.IMG_3771 IMG_3776 IMG_3775 IMG_3774 IMG_3773We ate them pickled last fall during our stay at D Acres Farm in NH. That was our first experience with them, and I have been waiting patiently for their arrival. Garlic scapes taste mildly like garlic, definitely not pungent or overpowering in flavor or aroma. They are firm and their texture is crisp and snappy, similar to broccoli florets.

I collected about 50 or 60 flower buds yesterday morning at the same time that I picked some basil and fresh oregano from the garden. I gave the oregano and some of the scapes away, but kept enough to make a wonderful pesto for dinner. IMG_3783 IMG_3781The pesto recipe is quite simple and is my own version of a somewhat similar recipe Beth had found online to accompany pasta. However, I used my pesto to flavor and enhance fish filets. IMG_3800

Pesto Recipe

Combine the following ingredients in a blender:

20-40 fresh garlic scapes chopped

1 cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup chopped basil

1 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tsp Kosher or sea salt

Pulse blend all ingredients until you obtain your desired texture (I like mine to be kind of crunchy).

Spread the pesto thick over your favorite fish, we used mahi mahi filets. Bake the fish for 5 minutes at 375º in a closed aluminum foil pouch, open the pouch and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the fish is fully cooked but still tender. Sprinkle sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste at the table.

I accompanied our fish with a fresh garden salad and quinoa. Sorry I did not get any decent pictures of the finish pesto, or even the meal, but you can trust me, the flavor and the texture were awesome. Let me know if you try it, and please post if you improve the recipe.

Bon apetit

 

 

 

30 days from seed to salad plate

Today we had our first harvest of the season. Not bad considering that about a month ago I was still wearing a down sweater while planting some of our seedlings. We picked a handful of radishes, and their tops, and some lettuce leaves, enough for a nice salad that we put together with tomatoes, cucumber, and a honey Dijon vinaigrette.

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It never ceases to amaze me how quickly radishes grow, I can’t think of any other crop that can be enjoyed in as little as 30 days from planting the seeds.

IMG_1669The perfect plant for those short on patience, and great to introduce children to gardening, as aside from being fast growing, they give a fantastic display as the roots seem to crawl out of the ground as they grow. Moreover, almost nothing really goes to waste, as the tops and the roots are all edible.

 

 

 

 

No more Mr. Nice Guy

I have been very suspicious for a while now…. but you know how it is, no evidence, so you kind of put it in the back of your mind and hope you are wrong, right? Last week, I even saw the tell tales, a fluttering white butterfly, a few holes on a couple of eggplant leaves.IMG_3562 I lightly sprayed all the plants with a fine mist of neem oil solution hoping that would be the end of it… was I ever wrong.

Today I woke up to a green cabbage worm fest. Several plants had a few holes on some leaves, the worst hit was a square of kohlrabi.IMG_3598 IMG_3597 IMG_3596 I found  only one big fat worm calmly and fearlessly gorging on  young kohlrabi taking advantage of the fact that it is pretty much invisible against a leaf background. Sorry, no pictures of that one, somehow it got squashed before I thought of taking its picture…

I did check most of the plants before getting ready for work, there were a few chew holes on some cauliflower leaves here and there, nothing really disastrous. Although I did not find any more worms, I prepared a fresh batch of neem oil solution (2Tbs super clean neem oil+2Tbs Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds shaken in a cup of warm water and later added to a gallon of water in a sprayer) and used it to purposefully and copiously douse all brassicas in their center, and on top and bottom of their leaves.

This afternoon, I only found one much smaller and not too happy green cabbage worm curled up in the fold of a cauliflower leaf. The same cauliflower that two days ago started producing a cauliflower.IMG_3571 This cabbage worm, however, did not seem interested in eating, or moving, or living, the neem oil treatment seems to have done the job this time. IMG_3608 In the future I will have to be more careful and treat more thoroughly and decisively  in order to prevent larger or more widespread problems.  I have never used BT, or even diatom powder, but I think I should stock up on those too, just in case.

Do you have a “cure almost everything” secret recipe? What organic products do you use to treat your vegetable garden?

Interesting stuff

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/neemgen.html

http://organicgardening.about.com/od/pestcontrol/p/cabbageworms.htm

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden update week+1

What a fantastic and incredibly rewarding week I just had. After all the rushing and running around the past few weeks trying to finish all the projects I had set myself to accomplish before the beginning of this garden season, last week seemed like a piece of cake as all the pieces are falling in place. After the Mother’s day planting marathon I ended up with just 7 empty squares in our garden. Yesterday I finished planting those squares with left over seedlings and seeds. As of today all our raised beds are fully planted, and look like beautiful garden quilts, each square has a different pattern, texture or color. IMG_3533 IMG_3532 IMG_3530 IMG_3535

The plants are growing nicely, some of the lettuce have reached a size where one could start harvesting on a “cut and come again basis”, but I figure that if I wait another week, we will definitely get a much larger and sustainable harvest over time. IMG_3539 IMG_3538 IMG_3537 IMG_3543 IMG_3544IMG_3551

The seedlings I planted last week seem to have acclimated well, especially the tomatoes which seem to have grown considerably in only about a week in the ground. Their stems are now as thick as a finger and their canopy spreads proudly almost touching the support netting we made for them. IMG_3541

In the squares where I have sown seed, the progress is less apparent, some squares have nice size plants while others have just the tiniest evidence of seedlings poking through the soil, that is the beauty of planting at different times, something is ready to eat while the replacement is already underway. IMG_3424 IMG_3521 IMG_3522

We have had a couple of cool nights which have not made some of my cucumbers very happy. The forecast for the weekend calls for temperatures in the 70ºF, this should be enough for them to get over their chill and will start climbing on the netting. IMG_3550

This weekend we unrolled and filled the tater totes once again, leaving just a few inches of the plants showing above the soil. The bags, which are now filled up to about a foot in height had been started with about 4” of soil when I fist placed the seed potatoes in them. As I have mentioned, the potato plants grow very fast in these bags, in fact today I looked at them and in only 5 days they look like they need to be re-filled with soil. IMG_3467 IMG_3468 IMG_3470

We also have very healthy zucchini growing in similar home made bags in order to save space in the raised beds. The whole idea of growing veggies in these air pruning bags is so interesting that I made a dozen more of them over the weekend to house our melons, cantaloupes, and squashes. IMG_3547 IMG_3502IMG_3497

The added bonus is that I am using the bags as dark and moist germination chambers until the seedlings sprout. Closing the bags at the top with small clamps/clips also protect the seeds from being scavenged by squirrels (yes they are still digging around when they get a chance even though I have the ultrasonic repelling gadget). IMG_3503

Last week I noticed two of the eggplant seedlings that had been transplanted later in the week had a few tiny holes in the leaves. IMG_3562

Even though I could not see any other plants being affected, but having seen a few white moths flying around for a couple of days, I decided to spray all my plants with a neem oil solution(2Tbs Super Clean Neem + 2 Tbs Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds in one gal of water) following advise found in one of my favorite Youtube channels at http://youtu.be/33Q0uP4odh4. The neem oil does not smell that great, but the plants do seem to tolerate it well, and apparently it kind of a wide spectrum treatment.

On a happier note, yesterday I harvested my worm farm for the first time. I only worked with half of the stuff in the box and got about a gallon and a half of worm castings. The process is definitely involved and kind of messy, it is worm crap after all…The resulting stuff is completely odorless and very friable and fluffy. I distributed it among a good looking tomatoes, some fancy lettuces, and also among the sickly looking cukes and the eggplants with the bug bites on them, hoping that the worm castings work like chicken soup for these plants. IMG_3525 IMG_3555 IMG_3556 IMG_3559

After collecting the castings in half of the bin, I  made it ready again with the addition of chopped up leaves, shredded paper, horse manure, coffee grinds and blended mix of kitchen vegetable and fruit scraps…yum!IMG_3527

 

Take a look at this interesting video and post from fellow gardeners

http://youtu.be/uA5K5r_VXLs     Coffee Grounds: How And Why We Use Them In Our Garden

http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/how-to-maintain-a-healthy-vegetable-garden/    How to maintain a healthy vegetable garden

Making The Cut

On the second Sunday in May, we celebrated Mother’s day, and the beginning of outdoor gardening season on Long Island. This is the long awaited “Week 0”, no more frost…finally. The days prior to the weekend were awesome, we had a nice share of sunny days with temperatures between 65-75ºF that warmed up the soil nicely, and a couple of warm rainy days to give all plants a nice moist bed to start.

This weekend, the garden centers were full of people loading up with trays of flowers, mulch, rolls of sod, wheelbarrows and packs of seeds to beautify their yards. We somewhat followed the same trend. After a quick stop at the Home Depot to buy a mower to replace the one I mangled up in the fall by going over a large sprinkler head and some rocks while mulching leaves, Beth took care of the lawn while I finished my drip irrigation control system and worked on our garden beds. Our yard is starting to look nice once again.

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This year, with the exception of a couple cell packs of marigolds, we grew everything from seed. We are very proud of our seedlings, they all look strong and healthy. I grew extras of every plant in case some did not make it to this point, making the final selection of plants to put in our beds was not easy, as even the bench warmers look great.

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Tomato pageant

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Every seedling received the same treatment as they were put in the ground. I enhanced the soil in the planting hole with a handful of rock dust, agricultural lime and some Epson salt to provide good source of calcium, magnesium, sulfur and other required nutrients and trace elements.

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I further treated my tomatoes to crushed egg shells which I sprinkled around their stem as an extra slow release calcium source, hoping to prevent future fruit end rot.

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The day after planting, I diluted a mixture of worm and compost tea and used it to spray all my plants.

As an update, I must say that so far all my plants looks quite happy. The cabbages have started to curl around themselves, the radishes, never disappointing, are showing some red at their base, and my garlic plants are already over a foot tall.

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The most interesting, however, are the potatoes that I am growing in “tater totes”, my home made air pruning bags. I never grew potatoes before, as we are not real fans, so my excitement could be just caused by lack of experience. Nonetheless, these plants are growing at an alarming rate, and look extremely healthy.

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Thank you for visiting my post, feel free to leave a comment. If you live in  central Suffolk County NY and want to give it a try at growing some veggies this summer, let me know if you’d like any of my seedlings.

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These are the bench warmers

Take a look at these cool posts on gardening:

http://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/think-small-young-and-tender/

http://greenbumb.com/2014/05/12/red-solo-cup-tomatoes/

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/05/12/my-garden-update-5-12-14/

http://pardonmygarden.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/no-till-vegetable-gardening/

A fumble and a save

About three weeks ago the ground became “workable”, I rushed to the garden with a few packets of seeds that clearly indicated “sow outside as soon as the ground is workable”. I planted bean, pea, carrot, beet, radish and lettuce seeds. As excited as I was to start planting, I must admit it was not a happy or even productive time. I recall how I was still wearing a down jacket then, and how my fingers froze from exposure. I spilled some seeds as I trembled, and hurriedly marked the squares where I had sowed seeds with orange flagging tied onto a small bamboo stick that I pushed into the ground.
Fast forward to today, I have seedlings coming out in all of the squares, some lined up in neat square foot gardening patterns, others growing all over like what they probably are, weeds.

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These are all lined up neatly, maybe beets or radishes

Since I had committed to memory the identity of the seeds and the planting density in each square, it is almost impossible to know which seedlings are keepers and which are junk. The only possible solution was to turn the soil over wherever I was unsure of what was coming out and start the process all over again.
I am now fully aware of my memory shortcomings, so I decided to plan my work ahead of time. I had seen a friend of mine use cheap disposable cutlery to mark her seedling trays, so I replaced the flagging bamboo sticks with cutlery left over from an already forgotten event (funny how you always run out of forks but end up with plenty of unused knives and spoons). To further simplify my work I wrote on each utensil the name and the recommended planting density per square foot. I did all this on my kitchen counter to avoid fumbling with sheets of paper that always want to take flight when you are outside, and to stick to the master plan on how many squares of each type I am planning on growing this year.

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Easier to plan ahead and avoid getting carried away
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Got my work cut out

By planning ahead, it  allowed me to share the planting with Beth, and carry on a real and totally unrelated conversation in the process without having to answer or guess “how many of these should I put here?” at every square.

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My new markers in action. The orange flagging marks a square where seedlings are already coming out in a predetermined pattern, I just don’t know what they are

I am thinking this may be a nice way to involve young children when planting a garden. The cutlery provides specific instructions on what to do, and is a great visual cue as to the progress of the work… once they are all used up our job is done.

Thank you for visiting, please leave a comment

Please check these cool posts from fellow gardeners

http://pittsburghrules.com/2014/04/19/carrots-tomatoes-and-happiness-a-garden-update/

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/04/23/my-garden-update-4-23-14/

http://greenbumb.com/2014/04/23/green-onion-update/

http://2me4art.com/2014/04/29/diy-regrow-your-food/

The final stretch

Today is the last day of “Week-1”, as of tomorrow the chance of frost on Long Island should be minimal. Although I could start planting all my seedlings out in the garden today, I rather adhere to the popular wisdom and wait until mother’s day weekend to do so. No need to jinx it at this point, besides the weather has been kind of unpredictable lately. Below is my garden update for the week.

This week I built myself a garden work bench. I have always wanted to have a work surface outdoors where I can keep some tools, re-pot plants, mix soil or clean produce near the garden beds. I saw an opportunity to do so for very little money by using the lumber from the old trellis fence I removed from the edge of the garden earlier this year. Repurposing the fence was a great idea, after all the lumber was in pretty good condition, the screws and nails showed more sign of distress than the wood itself, and getting it ready to be thrown away was going to be just as much work.

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This is the original trellis fence.
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A section of the fence repurposed as garden work bench
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Finally a place to work comfortably

The bench came out pretty good, it is very sturdy and functional, it I also gives me space in the bottom to hold some of my supplies, and my worm bin.

This week we had a few strong rains in the area. It rained pretty hard, and some water found its way to my composting bin. The next day when I went to turn the bin I noticed liquid draining through the aeration holes. I collected the dark liquid pouring out (instant compost tea). When diluted with water, compost tea can be sprayed directly on plants as it is a very good foliar fertilizer.

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Compost tea oozing from vent holes
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Freshly brewed compost tea

IMG_3262I have already sprayed my plants twice with the compost tea mix, it is hard to say how good it is yet, but all the plants do look nice and perky. This morning I also collected some tea from the worm bin which I am saving to use after planting my seedlings, kind of like a mother’s day tea party.

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Cabbage
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Potatoes grown in bags
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Lettuce
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Garlic and cabbage
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Onion in forefront
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Lettuce
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Cauliflower

In my last post I mentioned I had a major problem with squirrels digging into my beds looking for new seeds or stored acorns. I had covered areas of the beds with chicken wire to keep the critters away, only to find them digging under. After much investigating I bought a motion sensing ultrasound emitter.

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I have had it only for three days out in the garden, and already see the results. My beds have been undisturbed even after sowing new seed. What is best is that the birds do not seem to be bothered by the gadget and keep on coming to bathe in our pond.

Thank you for visiting, please leave a comment.

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