Tag Archives: backyard gardening

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/

My 2013 Garden is pretty much come to a rest. In the past few weeks I have spent most of the time clearing and preparing beds for the winter than harvesting anything. IMG_1931

We were lucky this year to have considerably extended our growing season, the decision to plant again mid summer turned out very fruitful t:-] … We still have a few spinach, arugula and lettuce left on the ground (even enjoyed a tasty salad this eve), but everything else is gone until 2014.

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I have shared many of my garden fun stories and photographs in previous posts, but there were just as many times in which I scratched my head and questioned myself “…what was I thinking???…”  Today I look back at my 2013 season and can identify a couple major mistakes (character flaws??), I want to share them because otherwise I may forget them and end up repeating them next year.

I pride myself on being a great planner. I truly enjoy planning what to plant weeks before it is warm enough to work outside. I carefully figure out how many and what types of plants I want to grow, and where they will be placed. However, I am also very impulsive, at the garden center my eyes always prove to be bigger, much bigger than my yard and brains. This year, as in the past I got excited looking at new plants I had never grown and ended up buying multiple trays of unplanned seedlings which of course I ended up squeezing all in the garden. In order to fit them all in the area I had prepared I not only grew the plants much closer to each other than recommended, but also had to re-form the rows tighter together to gain space. IMG_0945

At the beginning I saw no problem, in fact it did not bother me until the plants were half grown. At that time walking between rows  to prune, weed or simply collect fruit was almost impossible, it got even harder as they grew bigger.IMG_0199

I recall having to crawl under a tunnel made up by tomato plants to reach some of the zucchinis that grew in between. IMG_0205IMG_1154

There was such little room that I could not use my wheelbarrow to carry stuff across my garden.

I guess all impulsive people also lack a very important virtue, patience. Check!! I always want all my plants in the ground by Mother’s Day (official start of garden season on Long Island). I itch with anticipation the days leading to the 2nd Sunday in May.  Nothing more rewarding than looking at perfectly straight rows of miniature plants all planted and watered at the end of the day.IMG_1035 IMG_1034

However, since all go in the same day, all reach peak production at the same time. This can be overwhelming, even though I shared my production with friends and neighbors, a couple of times I felt they were not eating their share fast enough… YES, you can have way too many cherry tomatoes when they come all at once.IMG_0240IMG_1304

In order to control any desire to over plant and to control production to a more manageable and steady level in 2014 I have started making raised beds to utilize the space more effectively, and to make it easy for me to work around my plants.IMG_1588IMG_1929IMG_1930IMG_1917

I even created extra  100 square ft of garden space to make up for the wider access aisles I have left between beds. The use of raised beds will also make it easier for me to space out the planting over a few weeks to stagger production over a longer period of time. I am even thinking that at least one raised bed could be planted much earlier by fitting it with a greenhouse canopy, that will calm my impatience.

A new kind of busy

My late season plantings are growing very slowly, the chilly spell is not really helping at all. I guess I have to be happy with the three cucumbers and a few spaghetti squash that are now growing on the plants. I am not sure if I will see another zucchini this year, but have to report that my last hybrid tasted delicious in a fritata my wife made with some of our giant tomatoes too.
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This weekend c I started consolidating my compost pile, and I also moved a small fig tree and a few flowering bushes to different areas of my yard in hope of having a larger garden next year.

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However, these days I find myself spending more time planning what I want to do next season. I have reconfigured my 2014 garden in my head many times in the past few weeks in response to good ideas taken from cool videos or blogs. I have made long mental lists of the things that I want to try, as well as of the mistakes I don’t want to repeat, I will try to put them on paper to share with all in the near future.

Where did the summer go?

It’s funny, August just ended but it already feels like the summer is over. The sun does not shine as high in the sky, and its passage through our garden gets narrower and narrower every day. Our garden plants are starting to look tired, some are still producing fruit, but not at the same pace they kept just a couple of weeks ago.

Last week our cherry tomato plants  were looking very scraggly, we were still getting quite a good production every day (1.5-2 lbs/day), but we noticed the tomatoes were not ripening to a deep red, and the fabulous midsummer flavor was no longer there. At the end of last week, I decided to cut all our cherry tomato plants and put them in the compost pile.

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Of the vegetables that we planted in the spring, we still have in production: broccoli, eggplant, hot and cubanele peppers, and of course basil. We are also getting a few green peppers (no bigger than a plum), and some giant tomatoes that volunteered from seed left on the ground the past year.

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Back in July when the original lettuce, cucumber and zucchini production had started to dwindle, I had made a decision to continue gardening until it was no longer possible. I had then started seeds in newspaper pots which I had later put into the ground. With the cherries now gone, a large space opened up in our garden so I turned up and prepared a 6’ X4’ section and planted several varieties of lettuce and spinach, with the hope of having good tasty salads far into the fall.

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From the seedlings I had planted at the end of July, we are now getting some cucumber, even though I fear it may be getting a bit too cool for them. The turnips look decent so far, but will not know how they really are until I dig them up later in the fall. The chard and spinach are both doing well, but the Kholrabi keep getting chewed by bugs and/or rabbits (it is amazing how large a population of wild rabbits and deer we have on Long Island).

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In July I had also started 2 plants each of spaghetti squash, pumpkin and zucchini. I had figured out that their production was going to be more than enough for us and perhaps to give some away… One day I noticed one of the zucchini plants had stopped growing. I tried different things to help it, but in the end it wilted and died. It turns out my garden also obeys Murphy’s Law.

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At that point I started to get concerned about my zucchini production, as I remembered having to scramble from plant to plant looking for suitable flowers to gather pollen from, or to pollinate at any one time. My concern escalated the morning I got up and saw one female zucchini flower in the garden, and no male flowers in sight. Next to it, however, was a spaghetti squash plant with a couple smaller male flowers that closely resembled those of the zucchini.

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I thought about the implications, and soon realized that If I had been a bee, I would have already done what I was thinking about doing, so I used the pollen of the spaghetti squash to pollinate the zucchini flower. As of this morning, seven days later, my hybrid is still growing, but I do notice that the growth is not as rapid as that of a regular zucchini. I don’t know what it is going to be like, but with genes from zucchini and spaghetti it is already destined for an Italian dish. The lonely zucchini plant has not produced any other female flowers since then, but I see some tiny embryos forming now.

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Of my late plantings, the spaghetti squash has two small fruit slowly growing, and the pumpkin plants so far keep on producing only male flowers, so at this rate I guess I am buying for Halloween…

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Preserving the flavor

It has been raining on and off for the past three days here on Long Island, but I can’t complain as our garden is looking once again very happy. Yesterday afternoon, I saw that a few tomatoes were starting to change color, so I went with a bowl to start collecting them. Big let down…I guess the branch I saw yesterday was the only one with ripening tomatoes. Luckily there are still many branches full of green tomatoes in all stages of development so perhaps next week is the true beginning of our tomato season.

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Since everything looked good, and there was little bit of rain in the air, I decided to clip some oregano and dill as the plants are getting very bushy, and I have had to clip their flowering ends quite often lately.

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Our oregano comes from a single plant that we bought maybe 17 or 18 years ago at a local nursery. When we bought it they told me it was called Greek Oregano, but my Greek friends tell me it does not look anything like theirs… It is a tough plant growing to about a foot in height with very aromatic leaves the size of a dime to a penny. It is very hardy, we have transplanted it everywhere in our garden and have given some away to whoever wants to grow it.

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The dill, on the other hand, is a recent addition to our garden. I had planted a few seeds last year that ended growing nicely and self propagated themselves. They now grow in between our celery and basil.

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I like picking all herb early in the morning, long time ago I read somewhere that at that time the flavor was always strongest. There is nothing like freshly picked herbs, but unlike basil, we cannot use all the oregano we pick at one time.

To preserve what we may use within a month, I blend a bunch of fresh leaves with olive oil. We keep the paste in a small glass jar in the refrigerator, and use it to brush on garlic bread, pizza dough or vegetables to be roasted, or by the pinch in any other recipe.

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I usually air dry the bulk of the oregano. I make small bunches of 10-15 branches tied up at the bottom and hang them upside down in my garden shed. Today I also dried the dill and tried a different method drying the oregano in paper bags that I had read up about in Pinterest.  Once fully dry, I collect the leaves and keep them in glass jars, or in ziplock bags if they are to be given away.

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Nonna’s zucchini flower recipe

ImageLast year I had just posted some photos of my garden in Facebook when I got a comment from my friend Zuly in Italy. Her post under a shot of zucchinis said something like “do you also eat the flowers?, they are delicious”. The idea sounded intriguing and fun, as we had never tried them.

However the comment came at a time when our tomatoes were in full production, so our attention was mostly focused to thinking about how many different ways were there to eat tomatoes, and who else could we offer them to take them off our hands…soon after there were no more flowers to pick. As we planted our garden this year I kept in mind to try the flowers for sure this season.

Our first try was cut up flowers in a salad, the bright yellow pieces looked awesome, but honestly could not distinguish their taste with the dressing. For the second trial I decided to have them stuffed, but since I am not much of a recipe follower I decided to ad lib it, using whatever I had on hand… I made the stuffing with cottage cheese, garden oregano pesto and Parmesan cheese. Each flower took about 2 tsp to fill, and from there they went straight to a hot pan lightly greased with olive oil. My wife and I had them for breakfast, they tasted delicious, but needed major improvement with the somewhat soggy texture .

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My original filling
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I kept the whole flower and filled them though the top.
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I grilled the flowers, turning them once, the black burned stuff is cheese.

Yesterday we had a special treat, my son K and his beautiful girlfriend came over to spend the weekend with us. She is Italian (real Italian), when I told her I had collected zucchini flowers earlier in the morning she immediately said she loved them, and offered to prepare them the way her “nonna” made them. Ha, she fell right on my trap!! If I had a mustache I would have turned its tips….finally a chance to see how it is really done.

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Male flower in plant
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Yesterday’s flower harvest

Her preparation was elegantly simple but the result was awesome. She washed the flowers and cut the stems at the base. She then opened the flowers lengthwise, removed the stamen (where the pollen is in the center of the flower), and filled them with ricotta which she had previously salted and peppered. She wrapped the flower around the ricotta mix, passed them through an egg wash and finally covered them with flour before flash frying them in a shallow pan with olive oil. The flavor was subtle but delicious, and the texture was great as it was slightly crispy on the outside.

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Preparing the flowers
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It is much easier to fill them through the side
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close the flower by folding the sides over each other
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Pass over egg wash
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Roll over flour
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Frying in olive oil
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Crispy and delicious

To prepare the above dishes I harvest the male flowers early in the morning, right after collecting the pollen and distributing it among the female, or fruit bearing ones. The flowers look and are very delicate, so I bring them inside, put them in water and refrigerate them until I am ready to use them.

Getting Ready for Round #2

By the end of June, we had already cleared out a couple of rows of veggies. One row had Romaine lettuce, but with the regular harvesting the plants started getting to look too scraggly, so we have ended up pulling them out and using them. The other empty row is where once again the snap peas failed to grow…

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Some of our daily harvest
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After washing the lettuce we separate it from their stems and tie it up in mixed leaf heads.

We have enjoyed the almost daily harvest of different lettuce varieties, and have been able to share with friends, neighbors and with the local church that runs a nice soup kitchen once a week.  So we have made a decision to re-plant our empty rows with new varieties of lettuce and salad greens, as well as turnips and beets. We planted the turnips and beets directly in the empty rows, and while we free up more room in the garden we started the greens in newspaper pots. There is a very good Youtube video on how to make the square pots.

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We first tried the round ones, and then found out how to make the square pots in YouTube

For Round #2 we have chosen to grow arugula, oak leaf lettuce, Swiss chard and red lettuce. As of today the seedlings were coming out of the soil, so we’ll probably be ready to plant them in another 10 days or so.

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Here they come