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

Sailing through the doldrums

A fellow blogger and gardener now living in Austria said it very well in her recent garden post  “Practically Nothing Left To Do”.  After all the rushing to get things ready for summer growing season, we now enter a phase in which there is little to do but wait. The day to day progress is so difficult to perceive that it seems nothing is happening out there in the garden. IMG_4063 IMG_4062 IMG_4058 IMG_3911

Needless to say this is not my favorite time of year in gardening, I like it much better when I am running around getting things done, not just waiting for nature to do its thing.

This week was definitely quiet around here, I had enough time to build a second compost pen. It is now easy to turn the compost and the whole process seems to be going much faster. On the other hand, I have not been able to dial it in right with the compost tumbler. The temperature does not seem to get high enough in there, and the results have been marginal. I may re start a new batch in it with grass clippings and chopped up brown leaves. IMG_3850

We are still harvesting a nice variety of greens on somewhat regular basis. If last week was salad week, this can be called pea week. I only planted 6 square feet with peas, just as a novelty since I had never been successful with them in the past. IMG_4001 IMG_3934

In eight days we have collected 436 gr of super crunchy and sweet snap peas. The first few batches never made to the table, as we munched them while making breakfast. Now that we have satisfied that craving we will likely have enough to use when we make a stir fry one of these nights.IMG_4045

The tomatoes are growing nicely, all plants have fruit and flowers on them. A couple pepper plants have started showing interest in putting out flowers, this is the earliest I have seen peppers do that in my garden. I hope for a good crop of the extra hot ones I planted this year. The eggplants have been somewhat lagging in development and do not look too happy. I have attributed the slow growth of some plants to the mild, or rather chilly spring we just had, but others like the kohl rabi have been shining all season, let’s just see what the future brings, after all this is the first week of summer. IMG_4059 IMG_4056IMG_3908

Yesterday one of our summer squash gave us its first baby, a happy and bouncing 290 gr baby zucchini. IMG_3990

Like with all of my zucchinis, it was the result of manually assisted pollination, as I still don’t trust the bugs around here to do the job right. That zucchini will also find its way into some delicious stir fry. IMG_4030

This week I also freed some squares after removing the gigantic cauliflower plants that were occupying the space and shading every other plant in the bed. I must admit that the cauliflower and broccoli were somewhat a disappointment. The size of all the flowers was rather small for such huge plants. Next year I may not devote so much space to growing these even if I figure out where I went wrong.IMG_3920 IMG_3727

My new seedlings, spaghetti and winter squash, water melon and cantaloupe are growing nicely in their grow bags. IMG_3905IMG_4061IMG_4060This week I will thin them out further so as to keep a max of two plants per bag. I like the way plants grow in these root air pruning containers, and how easy and inexpensive it is to make them.  Next season I will use them to grow many other crops.

Much less impressive, but equally rewarding has been the production of castings from my one tote worm farm. Last week I collected a heaping 5 quarts of castings and about a  cup of concentrated compost tea, both of which I quickly put to use around the garden.IMG_3941 IMG_3940

My fun project at this time is trying to grow lettuce and water cress in our pond. We no longer keep fish in it, as the herons made away with a few hundred dollars worth of koi over a two year period. Nonetheless, given the growth of all the marginal and submerged plants in the pond, I am confident there is abundant nutrients in the water to support a few lettuces floating on rafts. I will update their development in subsequent posts, if you have experience with this, please share in a comment.IMG_3895 IMG_3892IMG_4076 IMG_4075

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It is salad time

June is always a salad month, not a stew or a sauce month, definitely just a salad month. All plants are surely growing, but most are too immature to feed a hungry family.  This early in the season all I am able to harvest consistently is salad greens and radishes. IMG_3760

No, I am not complaining, we enjoy being able to go out and pick a nice mix of of lettuces to eat that same eve. We always make sure to include assorted color, shape and textured leaves for best flavor and visual impact. IMG_3761 IMG_3762 IMG_3922 IMG_3915

Since we started harvesting our greens about 10 days ago the combined harvest of lettuces and the like (spinach, young chard, etc) has been plentiful, but not excessive. We are harvesting on a cut and come again basis, and so far we have visited  75% of the plants, some of which have been cut more than once already. IMG_3923 IMG_3924

I certainly cannot take full credit for our production, the cooler and wet weather we have been experiencing has kept the lettuce growing and not induced it to bolt.

Last week I reported on our first radish harvest. Our first three square feet of radishes produced over 1.6 lbs. That is a lot more radish than we bought in all of last year, however having it available and fresh, has made it easy for us to include them in our diet. It is so easy to grow, that I have already replaced the harvested squares with new plantings. Today I started picking a different square with long radishes, Salad Rose variety from Burpee Seeds. IMG_3855 IMG_3877 IMG_3881

Beautiful red skin with a pink to whitish center, very crisp texture and live peppery flavor.IMG_3928 IMG_3929 IMG_3930

As for the rest of the garden, it seems all other plants are getting in the mood to grow and produce something. The peas are going mad trying to grab and climb up the trellis, their white flowers and pods popping out everywhere.IMG_3880 IMG_3767 IMG_3868

The tomatoes, have been flowering for a week now, and you can see fruit starting to form in some of the plants. I think this is the earliest I have had tomatoes form on the vines ever. At this rate, we may have cherry tomatoes by 4th of July. So far the plants are looking very healthy, the indeterminate variety clearly growing faster than the determinate ones.IMG_3841

The zucchinis in the grow bags are doing wonderfully, their leaves have not become gigantic as I am used to seeing them. Instead it seem as if the plants are putting more of their energy producing flowers. IMG_3878The first two male flowers came out yesterday, and today the first female flower was fully open. IMG_3839 IMG_3837 IMG_3898

Lucky enough there were also couple male flowers to get pollen from, so for sure we’ll be having zucchini this week. Check out one of my early posts on fertilizing zucchinis  A bees job. Remember also that zucchini flowers are edible, for a great way to use the flowers visit Nonna’s zucchini flower recipe.

The water melon, cantaloupe and spaghetti squash growing in bags are doing great. I am considering dedicating the small area of my yard with Southern exposure to growing plants in bags next year. IMG_3905 IMG_3823

Not everything is picture perfect though… The corn I planted a couple of weeks ago has failed to impress me. I was concerned since the beginning that the area would not get enough sun, and indeed it doesn’t. I have just a couple corn plants struggling to survive, if it wasn’t because I don’t have anything else I want to grow there I would have pulled their plug already.  My biggest concern currently is with the potatoes. Some of the plants in one of three bags started to wilt and died after the last dirt fill. Perhaps I did not leave enough leaves out of the ground, but it has been so cool and wet around here lately that I started to fear fungal infestation. I have been checking carefully for signs of fungi, but cannot see anything so far that would suggest that is the cause, in any case I just hope for warm sunny days ahead.

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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.

Please visit these cool posts

You can go to Tiffany’s, I’d rather…

I ordered farm help from Amazon

The Heat is On!

Garden update- “Week -2”, most of the seedlings I planted a few weeks ago can now rightfully be called plants, they have endured several bitter cold nights, and are growing steadily and stronger, the only casualty so far was the Swiss chard (with a name like that I thought it would be more cold hardy… go figure). The rest of the seedlings still in pots are patiently waiting their turn to be released into the open , but for now are content with being upgraded to drinking cups, and being taken out to harden and enjoy the sun every day in the mini greenhouse.

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Our garlic is huge and looks very healthy. Some of the seed sown directly in the beds have started to germinate and I have an army of tiny plants peeking through the soil. Ladies and gents, Spring is finally here!!

I’ve been waiting a few months to be able to go outside and play. The past couple of days it’s been so nice here on Long Island  that I have been able to get out of bed just as the sun peeks through, and gotten quite a bit of work done outside before having to get ready to go to the office. I have finished all the beds, fitted them with drip irrigation, and provided them with nets for my tomatoes and other climbers to grow on.

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I have also sewn some planters out of garden cloth to grow potatoes, zucchinis and strawberries. I have left an area still semi wild where I will grow some corn and sweet potatoes.

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I am happy with the results and with the way our garden looks.

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As I am getting ready for “Week 0”, however,  I have had to deal with a major nuisance, there are a few squirrels in my yard that like to dig inside the garden beds looking for buried acorns. They have dug out several onions,  garlic, and have disturbed some of the areas where I have planted seed and tiny seedlings. Today I went ahead to cover some of those areas with chicken wire until the plants grow a bit and hopefully the squirrels stop digging.

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I don’t want to hurt them or drive them or the birds away from our yard as we do enjoy seeing them, all I want is to keep them out of our garden beds. Does anyone have any idea how to deal with these critters?

Turning junk to gold

They came in the mail yesterday, I had them delivered to my office to make sure they would not be left out in the sun all day. Our receptionist brought them straight into my office once she picked up the slightly damp priority mail box and saw the bright yellow LIVE PRODUCTS warning label on top. “If this is alive I do not want it near me” she said as she handed me the box. Now that they are finally here, they better eat all the junk I have been saving for them.

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2000 live red wigglers will turn most of our kitchen waste into prized worm casting compost. Worm castings, also known as black gold, is one of nature’s richest fertilizers, it provides important nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphates, and potash in a form readily available to plants.

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I have been planning on starting a worm farm since last summer and made it one of my priorities for this season. After watching many videos on worm composting over the winter, and after analyzing the systems available commercially, and countless diy designs on the web, I opted for making my own set. I wanted to use sturdy but fairly inexpensive nesting containers, neither overly huge, nor too small, something that could be picked up and transported easily.After checking many boxes, tubs, and totes, I chose to use a 45 gal flip tote (under $10 each at Home Depot) as the basic container on which to build my worm farm.

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I bought two of the flip totes to start with, one to house the worms and compost at the top, and the other to collect below the liquid (worm tea) that drains as the compost is produced . I modified the upper box by removing a section of its floor, and replaced it with a piece of fiberglass window screening which I glued in place with waterproof silicone.

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I removed the flaps that make up the cover of the lower box by pulling the hinge pins. I also drilled a hole and attached a drain fitting on one of the end walls of the bottom box to make it easy to collect the tea without having to dismantle the whole ensemble.

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Preparing the farm to house the worms started about a week ago. I mixed liberal amounts of sawdust and wood chips, used coffee grinds (I get plenty from a dear friend that works at Starbucks), shredded paper and cardboard, sphagnum moss, old garden compost, vegetable kitchen waste, ground egg shells and rock dust. Hopefully the resulting mix ratio is about 1/3 green:2/3 brown for optimum composting.

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As I said the worms arrived yesterday from www.unclejimswormfarm.com. They came in as expected, well packed and with lots of instructions on how to acclimate, rehydrate and release them into their new home. The price was decent for the lot, and they guarantee live delivery and offer live customer service if needed.

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So far everything looks good. I will report any developments in my regular garden updates.

FROST, what is it good for?

Everything in nature has a reason to exist, I know that. However, there are some things I do not have any use or a liking for, and I guess I would not miss them if they did not exist, ticks for example (most Long Islanders would probably agree with me on this), and poisonous snakes is another category I could do without. I am now going to include frost to this black list. Frost, and the possibility of it happening, is probably one of the biggest hurdles to gardeners and farmers in temperate regions.

Our gardening season has been going fantastic here on Long Island, great sunny days, and mild nights. We had a frost a couple of weeks ago, but had been free of it since then. Last night, it came back with a vengeance. The rain and wind that poured and blew all over the island all day turned to snow over night, and this morning everything was covered in a thick crusty ice shell that lingered well past noon. Although I only have frost-resistant plants out in the garden so far, the thought of seeing dime size lettuce and even other much larger plants under snow or covered in ice sends chills down my spine.

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Everything seems to have fared well so far, but tonight we are expecting another temperature drop, this time down to the mid 20º F. I do not know if this will help or not, but I got a roll of a white thin fabric that is supposed to help prevent frost damage to plants and all of them are now covered and tucked in for the night.

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GO! GO! GO!

I am one of those people that loves winter. In October I can hardly wait for the first serious snowfall… the deeper the accumulation, the better. DSCF4724

Nonetheless, come mid March, I am ready for fair weather. This year it seems winter had a stronghold over Long Island. Even last week we were dumped with about 4” of snow by freak storm that passed by. IMG_3009 Luckily all the snow melted away that same afternoon, and the weather has been somewhat decent since. This is “Week -4” in my gardening calendar (4 weeks away from last expected frost on Long Island). The temperature has been in the mid 40-50º F during the day and dropping to the mid-upper 30º’s at night.

Our garden this year got a major facelift with the addition of the 5 raised beds I built last fall. This past weekend I was able to finish filling the last bed with the help of my sons, so I am ready to go. All my beds have been filled with “Mel’s mix” grow medium (1:1:1 compost, sphagnum moss, vermiculite), which I enrich liberally with glacial rock dust.

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I have so far finished the bulk of my spring pre-gardening projects. Three weeks ago I built a large hoop house over a couple of my beds. It was big enough for us to walk in without having to duck, it did not come out as beautiful as I had imagined it, but since it was just going to be used temporarily, I figured it would be fine. And “temporary” it was, I found it all mangled up a few feet away in the garden on the first windy day. No big deal, that giant thing was really an eye sore… Besides, the next day I found a light plastic portable greenhouse on special at a Odd Lots, a local overstock warehouse, which is what I am now using to harden my seedlings.

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I finished my compost tumbler, and started two other which I am giving away to our friends at Hobbs Farm. I have also just finished making changes to the containers I will be using to produce worm castings, and I should be getting my live worms in the mail next week. The only big item left on my “to do list” is the installation of a drip irrigation system to the beds, which I will probably start this weekend.

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As for my plants, last week I planted all the broccoli, and cabbage seedlings I started back in February. This week I also planted the beds with onion sets, cauliflower, and a nice assortment of lettuces and garden greens.IMG_3017 IMG_3016 IMG_3029 IMG_3075

I can also report that the garlic that B, my young assistant, helped me plant last fall is growing very strong and healthy, and the shoots stand now over 3″ tall.IMG_3049

I am still keeping a few batches of tomato, basil, pepper, more garden greens, celery, eggplant in the house under grow lights. I am quite happy with the overall germination rates, the only disappointment so far was my first batch of bell peppers, I only got a couple seedlings out of a full pack of seeds, the second batch seems to be doing much better, as they say never put all your eggs in one basket…

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Starting next week, I can start most cool temperature tolerant seeds outdoors, either sown directly in the ground or in the greenhouse. This will afford me the space I need indoors to continue nurturing the more delicate seedlings for a bit longer.

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Have you started your garden yet?

What have you planted or plant to grow this year?

Any advice? I can surely use it.

 

Get Set!! Spring is around the corner

The mile high glacier that has covered our backyard since December seems to be receding. However most of our garden is still covered in thick stubborn ice, and my new raised beds are only evident by the rectangular mounds of snow symmetrically lined up like graves. Spring will officially make its entrance in a couple of weeks, and although the days are considerably longer, they are not yet one bit warmer.

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Although it is not possible to work outside, gardening season is in full swing at our place. During the fall and winter I made up a schedule of what I had to get accomplished every week, starting 12 weeks before the last possible frost date, and I am proud to say I am still on track.

Because of the weather, most of my tasks now take place indoors, either at home or in our shed. My first project was building shelves to accommodate the seedling trays. I made them out of pine for under $20 worth of lumber. Not only were they cheaper than the plastic sets they sell at Home Depot and Lowes, but I think they look much sharper too.

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This week I started working on a 45 gal compost tumbler which I am making out of a plastic barrel also at a considerable savings. I am almost done with the tumbler, just need to secure the door on it and transport it to a sunny spot in the yard out of the way.

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In my planting schedule we are at “week -9” (9 weeks away from the date when last frost could be expected here on Long Island, which I call “week 0”). At this time I already have robust broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower seedlings growing under lights. I had started those as per my schedule 4 and 2 weeks ago.

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Four weeks ago I also put several sweet potatoes in water to get them to grow slips that could be planted outside in the spring. It took over two whole weeks for the sweet potatoes to start showing any sign of life, I was even concerned I had gotten duds instead of spuds. This week we finally started seeing signs of slips in some of them, and one in particular has sprung a couple that are now about 3/4 inch. I am not sure this whole process is supposed to take this long, but it is what it is…

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In my planting schedule this coming week I was supposed to start our marigolds and dahlias, but I have decided to buy those as seedlings, and concentrate on growing vegetables instead of companion/beneficial flowers. My seed starting schedule is pretty lax for another week, when I will have to start our peppers (sweet and fiery),  eggplants, and a first batch of lettuce and Swiss chard. From then on every week I will have to start seeds of something new to grow. Our goal for this year is to grow a very large variety of the vegetables that we eat regularly. Aside from the ones I already mentioned above, we will also be growing the following: Tomato (2-3 varieties), garlic (planted since the fall), onion,  celery, spinach, melon, cantaloupe, zucchini, cucumber, beans, peas, basil (of course), carrot, strawberry, radish, beet, winter squash, and cilantro.

I have decided this will be the year to try a few different things to improve production and conserve resources in our garden. My plans include installing a drip irrigation system to all my beds and start a work farm to handle our plant waste and produce vermicompost (also known to gardeners as “black gold”). I will report hopefully on weekly basis once we are on full swing.

Check out these posts

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/02/24/sweet-potatoes-vs-yams/

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/02/10/my-garden-update-21014/