Saturday, August 29, 2015

Late summer chores

I've never ripped out tomato plants in August, so this is a first.  The bacterial spot/blight that got into the plants during the rainy cool weather in early summer had gone too far.  I didn't want the plants to serve as incubators of nasty microbes.  A picture of the two cages of slicing tomatoes shows almost no foliage left.  I did manage to pick a few slicers before taking them down.

The Super San Marzano tomatoes developed a lot more foliage before they got infected, now most of their leaves are brown and they were also pulled up.  Since the weather improved all of the tomato plants started new shoots which show no sign of disease, but those shoots start at the top of the cages and are too spindly to produce any amount of fruit.  Before taking down the tomatoes and their cages I harvested about 3 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, mostly sauce tomatoes.  The beds look empty now, just peppers and sick looking eggplant.

I sowed Berseem clover in the former brassica bed about 6 weeks ago.  Most of it died. 

So in the former onion/garlic bed I sowed buckwheat as a cover crop.  It's doing better than the clover.

Crabgrass had taken over the squash bed.  I was hoping the squash would shade out the weeds, but the Teksukabotu plants have succumbed to a fungus and lost most of their foliage, giving the weeds an opening.

Well I got in their and ripped out as much as I could.  At least I can see the squash now.  The vines growing on the trellis are relatively free of fungus.  That shows the benefits of air exposure in preventing fungal infestations.

At least the okra are doing well, and the beans are producing again.  This is Millionaire okra, from Johnny's.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday August 24

The pole beans have started to produce again.  I got very few beans from late July until now and last week I could see that they had set quite a few blossoms, so here they are.  Fortunately a row of Provider snap beans picked up much of the slack in the interim.  These are Fortex and Marengo Romano.  I picked just over two pounds for the week. 

Okra is producing well too, a pound this week, as the plants have established themselves. I have two Millionaire okra plants, a recent F1 hybrid, and two Silver Queen plants, an heirloom okra.  The Calypso cucumbers gave me six more pounds but it looks like they are slowing down as the plants are showing some fungal problems.  Doesn't matter, the rest of them go to the rabbits as I've pickled all I'm going to pickle. 

This year the tomatoes are a disaster.  I think they have bacterial spot and the plants are nearly finished. There are a few more slicers to pick and probably several pounds of Super San Marzano that can be made into salsa.  Then I'll pull up the plants and burn them.  The eggplant hasn't done well either.  They just did not like that cool cloudy weather early in the summer.

To see what other people are growing, link to http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Homemade salsa

It's time to can the first (and probably last) batch of homemade salsa.  It looks like it has become an annual summer ritual that happens as soon as there are sufficient tomatoes and peppers for a batch.  Slicing tomatoes have been a near failure this year due to the wet weather.  At first I thought the tomato plants were infected with blight, but now I believe it is bacterial spot.  Blight starts at the tips of the oldest foliage and works its way up the plant.  If the plant is growing vigorously it can stay a step ahead.  This is different, the infection will show up anywhere on the plant and will destroy the flower stalks as well as the foliage. 

Fortunately the Super San Marzano tomatoes were not affected until later in the season.  The plants are diseased now but a first bearing of tomatoes was unaffected. 

The other major component of salsa are the peppers.  I planted one jalapeno plant and a serrano plant.  Now this is where it gets tricky with raised beds and limited space.  I planted the hot peppers on the north side of the bed, assuming that they would be the tallest peppers.  In front of them I planted ancho and New Mexico peppers for chili powder.  This year I tried a new variety of ancho from Totally Tomatoes, Mosquetero hybrid ancho.  Turns out this is a very vigorous pepper plant, about five feet tall now, and shading the hot peppers much of the day, resulting in puny hot pepper plants.  The photo shows the many ancho peppers about half-sized on the plants.  Anyway, I had to buy some jalapenos from the store.

Then there are sweet peppers, which I like to grill, de-skin and add to the tomato base.  I picked these two Mama Mia Gallo sweet peppers.  They and another one in the refrigerator were put on the grill and processed into the salsa.  This pepper has great flavor, small amount of seeds, really like it.

In addition the salsa got two Tropea onions, a handful of chopped parsley and 5 ounces of fresh lime juice for acidity.  There were about 7 1/2 pounds of paste tomatoes.  I was trying for enough salsa to fill 7 pint jars, which is the capacity of the canner.  There was enough for 6 1/2 pints, so the half jar was set aside for the refrigerator and a 'dummy' jar set in the center of the canner.

Canning salsa is a lot of work.  Slipping the skins off the tomatoes, roasting the peppers and cutting the hot peppers and onions to a fine chop takes a lot of time.  It makes those bottles of salsa in the supermarket look like they are well worth four or five dollars. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday August 10

Biggest harvest so far this year.  That's no surprise, I dug up the potatoes last weekend and got 45 pounds of spuds.   The pole beans have slowed down to almost nothing, so I'm getting beans from a single row of Provider bush beans for now.  The Calypso pickling cucumbers again outdid themselves, but it looks like they too are slowing down.  That's fine with me, I've canned 35 pints of dill pickles and don't want to can any more.   The summer squash and Diva cucumbers are also producing well. 

The okra plants finally produced enough in one picking to make a quart of okra pickles with Serrano peppers.

More Calypso's, some beans, and a few strawberries.  The strawberries have been small and many are lost to birds or insects.

On Sunday I got a nice harvest.  That's a Grandma's Pick tomato in the foreground. 

Now over 200 pounds for the year, with the star producer being the five cucumber plants at 62 pounds.  In second place, the potatoes - 32 pounds of Red Pontiac and 12.5 pounds of Kennebec.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Digging up the potato patch

The potatoes never looked that great this year, at least aboveground.  Lots of rainy, cloudy weather slowed growth and promoted fungal disease.  It rained over an inch two days ago and today seemed like a good day to get the potatoes out, with the soil not too wet or too dry.

It always seems that doing one task entails doing another.  Removing the potatoes goes hand in hand with starting a new compost pile.  That's because there is a mulch of shredded leaves over the potato patch and I don't want to add them to the existing pile, which is well on its way to finished compost.  So they get put into a new pile while the old pile finishes and can be used for amending the soil later this year.

Before I could start work in the beds I had to build another compost module.  The modules, built from 2x10's, last five or six years.

The new module was set up next to the existing compost bin.  The topmost module of the old bin was moved onto the new module.  Now there are two bins.  The bulk of the compost in the old bin is from leaves shredded last fall.  Since then kitchen waste, plant debris and bunny poop has been added.  It's a warm, sometimes hot, pile.

With the compost bins ready it was time to dig out the spuds.  First the plants were pulled up by the stems and any potatoes that came up with them were removed.  Some plants gave up many potatoes, others none.

I got quite a few potatoes from this initial pass.  Those are Kennebecs on the left and Red Pontiac on the right.  They were hosed gently to remove the mud and allowed to dry.  Some of the Kennebecs which were just beneath the leaf mulch had green skin from sun exposure.

After the potato foliage was pulled out it was put into the new compost bin and chopped up with a machete, as the vorpal blade went snicker-snack (sorry I can never resist that one).  That left a potato patch with a cover of shredded leaves and surprisingly few weeds. 

The shredded leaves were raked up and put into the new compost bin, on top of the potato foliage.  It made two wheelbarrow loads.  I put the first load into the bin, then filled up a bucket with bunny poop and spread it on top.  The next load was added to the bin and a few handfuls of lawn fertilizer sprinkled on top for nitrogen. The whole affair was watered.

Then it was time to dig up the remaining potatoes - the hard work.  I won't go into detail here but the humidity and misery indices were high.  But ultimately the potatoes gave up.  A few got sliced by the spade in the process, but the damage was limited.  These potatoes were also hosed  off and allowed to dry, then moved inside the house where they now cover the kitchen table.

That left a bare potato patch.  The soil was broken up with a hoe and cultivated with a single pass with the power cultivator.  Clay is the eternal curse in this garden, especially in a newer bed like this, and there is still not quite enough organic matter in the soil to let it break up easily.  After tilling the patch was raked over.  Lastly the squash vines that had been growing all around the patch were directed over the bare soil.

I expect the patch will be completely covered with squash foliage in a week or so.  The butternuts are growing like crazy this year while the Teksukabotu vines are somewhat subdued.  Last year it was the reverse.  It looks like it will be a good year for squash.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday August 3

The best week yet.  That's not unusual of course, August typically produces the largest and most diverse yields.  While the pole beans have slowed down, and I'm hoping that they will get a 'second wind' and produce more, I'm getting more tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and okra. 

The week started off with, what else, more Calypso cucumbers and a Genovese summer squash.  Also some Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers.  I tried these peppers when I saw the seedlings at the local greenhouse, after seeing a number of other gardeners growing them.  I'm sold, they are sweet, tangy and just the right size for a stir fry.  They are so good that I often eat them like candy. 

A few days later, a mixture of beans.  The Fortex and Marengo Romano beans have really slowed down, as if all the cloudy weather has caught up with them, even though last week has been sunny.  A new row of Provider bush beans has picked up the slack, but it doesn't look like I will put as many beans in the freezer this year.  More Nardello sweet peppers, okra, a Diva slicing cucumber, a Big
Beef tomato on the left and a Grandma's Pick tomato on the right.  This is the first year I've grown Big Beef and it's quite good, very acidic.

More Calypso cucumbers, Silver Queen and Millionaire okra, a San Marzano sauce tomato, another summer squash and the last of the Red Tropea onions, which had been curing in the sun.  The okra are almost producing enough to make a quart of pickles.  I grew Millionaire okra two years ago in a SWC and the results were not so good.  In the beds they are living up to their potential.

Again, more Calypso cucumbers.  This morning seven pints were hot canned and two quarts of refrigerator pickles were prepared.

Sunday morning I picked more beans, Calypso cucumbers, and a new orange sweet pepper, Mama Mia Gallo.  Beautiful isn't it?  I hope it tastes as good as it looks.  There's also an Alma paprika and Nardello peppers, and another Big Beef tomato.  I'm hoping that the San Marzano tomatoes, Serrano peppers and more of the Gallo peppers ripen at the same time for a batch of salsa.  I like to grill the sweet peppers and blend them into the salsa.

The onions that were pulled up about a week ago have been curing in the sun, and it has been mostly sunny all last week.  Since the forecast called for storms this morning (didn't happen) I harvested them last night, just clipped off the tops and brushed off any lose skin.  These are Ruby Ring onions.  They keep well.

All in all a great week.  Twenty pounds of onions, twelve pounds of cucumbers, and two and a half pounds of beans.  Nearly 43 pounds of produce for the week and 142 pounds for the year.  To see what other people are growing, go to http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The rabbit litter at 8 weeks

Almost 8 weeks.  The doe was bred on May 4 and delivered 10 kits on June 4, right on schedule.  They have grown into bright-eyed active little bunnies.  This was the litter three weeks ago.  They are happily munching on willow branches.  Willow grows on the banks of the pond levee.  The ramp takes them to an upstairs 'penthouse' where they like to sleep.

I feed them as many greens as I can find.  In the spring I fed the buck and the doe dandelion, plantain, and wild rose.  The wild rose bushes at the edge of the lawn are very large, and the first rose shoots are tender and the thorns are soft.  The rabbits love them.  Later in the spring they were fed the leaves from cole crops that were harvested.  A head of cabbage offers a lot of outer leaves that would otherwise go into the compost bin, same with kohlrabi, broccoli and caulifower.  Of all the green foods, the rabbits love brassica leaves more than anything.  A close second are the field peas that were grown as a cover crop in the squash bed.  For about a month the peas were cut and recut and given to the bunnies.  The garden is not producing much that they like right now, except when the pole bean vines are pruned, but willow shoots are abundant and they will eat them.  Earlier in the summer the rabbits got about half their nutritional needs met by greens, the other half from pellets, but the balance has tipped more toward the pellets at this time.  I'm hoping that as new cover crops get to size that the supply of greens will increase.

Now commercial rabbit pellets are supposed to have everything that the rabbit requires nutritionally, but the rabbits don't get excited about eating pellets.  Walk up to the pen with an armload of greens and they are running all over the place with excitement.  They enjoy eating real green food, they are very healthy, and it cuts down on feed expense.  Sounds like a win-win.

When I got into this I read a number of articles and books that cautioned against giving them greens.  They will give the rabbit diarrhea, gas, bloating, may even kill the bunny unless the rabbit is given several weeks for the gut bacteria to adjust.  The warnings were especially dire for baby rabbits just starting to eat solid food.  One of the premier books in the field warned against giving bunnies ANY green foods. 

Well I never had a single problem with natural foods.  When I bought the breeding pair I introduced greens slowly over a few days, then just gave them all they wanted.  The bunnies got greens when the came out of the nest box.  There were no problems, none.  And, as I pointed out earlier, the rabbits love them.  I figure their life is pretty boring as it is, and the greens really gets them excited. 

Here is a picture taken today, just after I threw an armload of willow branches into the pen:

During the Great Depression many people kept rabbits in their backyards and fed them whatever scraps and greens they could find.  Pellets were unknown.  I'm sure the rabbits took several more weeks to reach slaughter weight but they found a way to survive without commercial pellets.  I'm not knocking pellets, they are reasonably priced and can be a real time-saver when there isn't time to forage.  The rabbits will probably be healthier and grow faster if they eat at least some pellets.  But their diet can be supplemented with natural foods with no ill effects, as long you don't mind if it takes a little longer for the bunnies to reach processing weight.  I'm not pushing my rabbits, there are no time constraints or a need to maximize production.  Since the doe was bred late this will be the only litter she has this year.  Next year I'll breed her earlier and try for two litters, but I have no desire to push for three litters, although a lot of people do that.

Here's the doe, seeking little quiet time away from her brood.