Tag Archives: vegetable garden

End of April, garden update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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100 Kg of food…not too shabby

I figure at this point in time, we may just have another month or month and a half left of growing season here on Long Island. This year we have stretched our production considerably longer than in the past, and as of this last weekend we had harvested over 221 lbs of food (just over 100 Kg). Whatever we squeeze out of our yard from now on is just gravy, but I do hope to scratch the 250 lb mark before it is all over for this year.

Fall is a pretty boring season when you think of it in terms of gardening, not much to really do apart from cleaning up and start getting things somewhat ready for 6-7 months from now…I have spent the past couple of weeks removing and chopping plants that seemed to beg for a quick yanking out of the ground, and feeding them to our ever growing 2015 compost pile.

I am  now tending to a garden that is barely growing at about 20% capacity. As I remove spent plants I am discovering those that hid and had so far eluded our salad bowl. I am getting a better sense of what is worth growing again, and what is not worth saving the space for next year.

Our main attraction at present is the cut-and-come-again lettuce. We have been eating it regularly out of a 4 sqft section that I planted about a month ago. IMG_5400 IMG_5401

This weekend I decided to add 4 more sqft so we do not run out once they start growing at a slower pace. The spinach in my garden grows very slowly for some strange reason, but thankfully we have plenty of radicchio and chard to cook with in its place.IMG_5381 IMG_5398 IMG_5382

This year I experimented with a few different brassicas, most of them already did their thing a couple of months ago. The only plants of this family that we still have in the ground are Brussel sprouts, which seem to slowly be forming their tiny buds, and the fabulous kohlrabi which we have really enjoyed throughout the whole season.IMG_5383 IMG_5450

At present, we still have carrots and celery growing nicely.  Last week I pulled all the bell peppers out, and left some cubanelles and a mild hot pepper with a nice flavor to finish their show for the year. IMG_5402IMG_5377IMG_5376

Just about two weeks ago my friends Dawn and Mike gave me a small plant that produces about inch long slender but extremely hot peppers (no kidding). I hope to use these in some of my “picante” hot sauce  to see if I can harness and tame their incredible fire power to an edible level. IMG_5395

My plan for the next 7-8 weeks includes topping off my garden beds with the compost I have been cooking all season, plant the 2015 garlic, and perhaps build one last raised bed. I am not sure what is the best way to maintain the raised beds during the winter, should I cover them up or leave them exposed? If I cover them up, should I use plastic, cardboard,  hay or wood chips? Or  should I perhaps  put a thin layer of horse manure on top and cover it with leaves? Any ideas will be appreciated.

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A Harvest Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paper? or plastic?

During the winter I became interested in a planting technique used to stimulate plants to grow  extensive root systems. The benefits of this technique translate into stronger plants that are better able to utilize the nutrients in the soil they live in.  The technique is known as root air pruning.

Root air pruning occurs in containers made out of materials that allow the roots to enter in contact with air once they reach the container walls.    At such point of contact  the tip of the root dehydrates and dies. However, the plant compensates by growing secondary roots in other directions inside the container. As these secondary roots further develop, and in turn come in contact with the container wall at a different spot, the process is repeated. The end result is a very well developed, very dense root system inside the container, as opposed to the single root that circles around and around and becomes pot bound inside a traditional container . There are many commercially available root air pruning containers, and perhaps just as many DIY suggestions available on line, (I particularly enjoy watching Larry Hall’s videos ).

Since this year I was using raised beds which limited the space we have available to grow vegetables, I decided to experiment growing zucchini in root air pruning containers, to gain the precious gardening real estate in the raised beds that would otherwise be occupied by the giant summer squash plants. I initially made four large containers (17 gal each) to house my zucchini seedlings. I made the containers by sewing heavy duty landscape fabric into a 16″X16″X16″ square-bottomed bags, which I then filled about 1/2 of the way up with the same soil (Mel’s Mix) I used in my raised beds. IMG_3377

Early enough it could be noted that the bags were doing a good job, the seedlings were growing strong and healthy with the extra heat they were getting in the dark containers. At that point I decided to try growing potatoes, so I made three more bags for that purpose, and I also made a long sausage like container which I planted with watercress seed, lettuce and celery.IMG_3502

Soon after  I though to make a few smaller bags out of the material trimmed off when making the original larger bags.IMG_3484 IMG_3485

I made a dozen 4gal bags, where I planted our squash, melon and water melon seed. The bags were great for starting seed because they could be closed at the top and provide a dark, warm and humid environment for germination  while at the same time preventing squirrels and other critters from getting too curious and messing everything up.IMG_3488 IMG_3487 IMG_3492IMG_3744IMG_3743

To date, the 4 zucchini plants have produced almost 8lbs of food so far. We had some degree of success growing potatoes, and after emptying the bags we have already re purposed them to grow pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrot. IMG_4418 IMG_4541

Our sausage shaped container is going strong and we still take cuttings of watercress and celery as needed. Our melons, squash and cantaloupe look awesome and we already have some fruit forming.IMG_3676 IMG_4326 IMG_3569 IMG_4416 IMG_4317IMG_4594IMG_4592

These containers are so versatile, that I have also made 1/2 gal bags to root perennial herbs to share with friends, I am sure this size will also work great to start seedlings next spring. The bags are great for gardeners with limited land, for apartment dwellers with just a balcony, or even to use in areas that cannot be easily converted into gardens (patios, decks, lawns,etc). Next year I plan on expanding our bag farm to grow  plants in a sunnier location of our yard, and to re-locate lettuce to a shadier area once the mercury starts climbing… the possibilities are endless.

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You want me to do what with that zucchini?

Mid summer  brings unyielding heat, fireflies, and more zucchini that most people can handle. Yes these plants are a fantastic morale booster to any gardener, they give and they give and they give.  IMG_4472 IMG_4471

At the beginning, you hoard all you can harvest, but after a week of eating it in ratatouille, omelets and stir fry you cannot even bear the sight of another group of yellow flowers sprouting in the garden. IMG_4467 IMG_4470

At that point you suddenly become generous and start sharing your bounty with your neighbors… your offering is welcomed at the beginning, but soon enough they stop opening the door when they see you coming up their driveway…IMG_4230

I am quite certain this is the same scenario that prompted the first person to add zucchini to bread mix, and that is how zucchini bread came about. I do love the stuff myself, but the great majority of recipes out there pack so much sugar, carbs and calories, that you are better off eating a slice while running hard on a treadmill.

Today I adapted a very good and very healthy bread recipe  to handle some of my zucchini production. The result is quite good, it has a ton of protein and very little carbs,  so you can eat it with less worries. I also find that by baking it into muffins instead of bread, it is much easier to stop at one portion as opposed to polishing the whole loaf in one sitting… so without further ado,  here is my “Nutty Zucchini Muffin” recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium eggs or 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup shredded and drained zucchini
  • 2 1/4 cups almond meal
  • 1 cup dried unsweetened cranberries (craisins)
  • 1/2 cup slivered or chopped almonds or pecans
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 1 TBS fresh orange zest
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Directions:

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Distribute the mix among 8-12 cupcake baking cups  in a muffin tin (no need to grease anything). Bake in a preheated oven at 350ºF until the muffins are fully baked (poke a muffin in the center with a knife and it comes out clean) and golden on the top. Once done, remove the muffins from the tin, allow them to cool on a rack, and they are ready to eat… Super easy, right? Let me know if you try it and like it.IMG_4512 IMG_4513

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Why is my salad so awful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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/

The final stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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Compost tea oozing from vent holes
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Freshly brewed compost tea

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

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting, please leave a comment.

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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?

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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