Tag Archives: long island

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

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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/

Planting our 2014 garlic crop.

She arrived with her mom wearing the apron Beth had made for her when she took over our garden last summer. She came to the kitchen, gave us a hug and asked if she could help me toss the salad I was getting ready for dinner. She pulled over a step stool to reach over the large bowl on the counter. Once the salad was all ready, she made me change into a different apron, because the one I was wearing was “a cooking apron, not a gardening one”. I had invited B (my 6 year old garden helper) to come a week ago so we could plant together next year’s garlic crop, and she was definitely ready for business.

Earlier that afternoon, before B’s arrival, I had separated two pounds of organic garlic that I had bought at D Acres Farm in our last visit to New Hampshire in early October.

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The cloves all felt firm and were much better than average in size. I had gotten a nice assortment of garlic, some purple, some white, but all apparently the hard neck type. 

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My previous attempt to grow garlic in my garden using store bought garlic a couple of years ago was not successful at all, so besides getting better seed, I prepared one of my newly built raised beds  with a nice 2” top layer of rock dust enriched compost on top of a fluffy layer of compost/vermiculite/peat moss prepared following the traditional Mel’s Mix recipe.

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When B arrived in the garden she was surprised to see how different it was from when she last saw it in the summer. She was concerned that the side of the raised bed we were going to work at was a bit too close to the edge of our garden, but once she sat on the ground she was no longer worried. I explained what we were going to do, and showed her how plant the cloves with the pointy side up inside the holes I had previously made about a finger deep and 4” apart.

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In order to keep track of our work progress, I had marked the whole bed with a grid made out of cording. We planted one square at a time, before going to the next square, and we marked the planted area by spreading some of the garlic peelings on top of the dirt. 

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B caught on what was needed to be done immediately, she did not miss planting any of the cloves in the correct place, and truly enjoyed beating me at planting each our designated squares.

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In total, we planted 135 cloves, if we get them all to produce a full head we will be set with garlic for next winter, and will feel much safer should vampires start attacking. 

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Sharing some of my gardening chores with B is truly an enjoyable experience. She may be too young to completely understand many of the reasons why things are done one way or another, but it seems she also finds enjoyment at  getting her hands dirty working the ground. It is hard to tell if she will still be interested in gardening as she grows up, but I will be happy to nurture her curiosity in this field while she is.

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Do you garden with your children? What activities do you share with them? 

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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Hobbs Farm, volunteers welcome

In our travels we are always looking to meet interesting people, or visit awesome places or operations to learn from or exchange ideas. Today I want to share my recent visits to one of my neighbors, the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, a place with a fantastic history and and great mission.

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The farm, which is located on Long Island in Centereach NY, sits on an 11 acre plot wedged among residential developments. The farm was donated by the Hobbs family in 1990 to the Bethel AME Church. In 2007 a group of concerned members of the church formed an organization to restore the farm house and the barn and created a two acre co-op garden. Their mission was simple, to provide fresh wholesome produce to those in need.

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Since its rebirth, the farm has expanded considerably, and now also has a greenhouse and 4 different planting areas: The Son Shine Acres, where most of the food is grown, harvested and distributed to the needy through a network of local food pantries and food programs. Excess production is sold at the farm produce stand, the revenue being used to cover operational costs.

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The Community Garden, a series of 24 5‘X20’ plots where members can grow their own flowers and veggies while helping with community tasks.

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The Education Garden, an area where individuals and groups can participate in specific educational projects while at the same time helping grow produce for the hungry.

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The last area was just recently developed with a grant from the Christopher Reeves Foundation, and the assistance of Stony Brook University and local patrons. I am not sure it has an official name yet, but I heard its main promoter and steam engine of the project, Ann Pellegrino,  calling it The Garden of Hope, a name that very well fits its purpose. This area  has a series of wheelchair-accessible raised beds, where persons with disabilities can not only learn to garden, but also may harvest and keep the production for their use.

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This is not your regular backyard garden, it is a real farm, run in a very efficient and ecologically responsible manner. The crops are drip irrigated to conserve water, and are never treated with pesticides. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this farm is the positive atmosphere that can be felt from the moment you are faced with the Volunteers Welcomed sign and are later warmly  and sincerely greeted  by a member who will proudly show you around.

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The farm is open to individuals and groups looking to roll up their sleeves to make a significant difference in our community. To learn more about how you can become involved with the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, or to donate to their program please visit their website at  http://www.hobbsfarm.info/index.htm .

Mid summer garden update

As I have been reporting all along, we are having a fantastic production of cherry tomatoes, the only variety we grew this year. We finally have reached the point at which our daily harvest is much larger than what our family can eat in salads in one day, so we have started to incorporate them in our usual recipes, and have shared our surplus with friends and neighbors.

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Last week was really bountiful, we also collected, onions, not very big, but very tasty, acorn squash, beautiful eggplants, and of course lettuce and basil. The latter seems now to grow much faster than my son can eat as pesto. Our hot peppers started to turn red, and so far I have collected a couple that I will be using to make hot sauce.

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The rains here on Long Island last week were a real blessing. All the plants look happy and are producing fruit regularly. By the end of the week, after the torrential rains subsided, I planted our next crops (lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, cucumber, spaghetti squash, zucchini, carrot, a funky looking heirloom pumpkin, and Kohlrabi which I am trying for the first time). I find that by starting to plant again at this time we can substantially increase our garden production as we have fair weather until at least mid to end of October on Long Island.

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Do you become a more daring cook when you have excess produce? In my next post I will share a simple but delicious recipe of a traditional Venezuelan breakfast with a twist.

Keeping them fresH2O

I have spent part of this summer trying to figure out how to preserve the two most perishable vegetables I grow. Lettuce, and zucchini (courgette) flowers.

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It is fairly easy to keep fresh one, or perhaps a couple heads of lettuce in the crisper section of the refrigerator. However, when you end up harvesting more than you can fit in the whole fridge, you know you need to try something different. The solution came to me simply, but out of necessity.

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Right after collecting a batch of lettuce leaves, I thoroughly rinse them in the sink in cold water to get rid of sand any other stuff still on them. I put them stem end down in a bowl keeping the larger leaves on the outside. I then fill the bowl up with cold water to keep the lettuce fresh. In this manner, the lettuce keeps very crispy, without drying up or browning for at least a day and a half right on the kitchen counter, without the need for refrigeration.

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Whatever lettuce we want to give away, we tie lightly in a bundle with a cord and put it in a plastic bag. I have been able to keep and transport lettuce like this for a few hours. When I have different types of lettuce available I make bundles with assorted leaves for an instant salad mix.

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Now, if figuring out how to keep lettuce came easy, zucchini flowers, on the other hand,  were a real challenge. The flowers comes up very early in the morning and if left on the plant they will close up and start wilting by early morning. As much as they are delicious for breakfast, we had seen some great recipes that we wanted to try for dinner. We had also offered flowers to friends who would not come over early enough to get them fresh off the plants.

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I tried everything: keeping the flowers on the counter; keeping them in the fridge; putting the flowers  in a vase; keeping the vase in the fridge, etc. The results were at least consistent, in the afternoon the flowers always looked somewhat sad, petals starting to curl, a little bit soft and dull yellow.

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My final try was last week. I cut the stems at the base, removing everything and leaving only the petals as a hollow tube. I rinsed the flowers and refrigerated them immersed in a bowl of water. It was not until the next evening that my wife took them out of the fridge and declared “this is it”. After more than 30 hours, the flowers were still firm, bright yellow and open all the way. We decided to eat them following Nonna’s recipe, they were delicious.

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Unfortunately, I got these promising results with the last flowers I collected before discarding and mulching the spent zucchini plants. My next batch of zucchini plants is still germinating, and will not be available for me to try again for a few weeks. If you are still getting flowers, and happen to try this, please leave me a note below, I would like to know what kind of results you get.

try some awesome zucchini/courgette flower recipes