Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday May 18

Harvests are beginning to ramp up now.  This week I collected the first non-leafy vegetable, kohlrabi.  It's a sign that more cole crops are on the way, very soon.  I picked a Grand Duke kohlrabi -

And two days later a Kolibri kohlrabi -

Both bulbs added up to just under two pounds.  The leaves went straightaway to the rabbits, who practically inhale them.  I like kohlrabi best raw, although it makes a decent soup and is not bad fried like hashbrown potatoes.  It's a nice addition to a salad, like a cucumber, mild and fresh tasting. 

I also picked just under 1 1/2 pounds of spinach and a pound of lettuce.  It's been a good year for spinach, 5 1/2 pounds so far, all of it planted last October.  Spring-planted spinach rarely matures before bolting but this year might be an exception.  I'll never turn down more spinach.

To see what people get from their vegetable gardens head on over to

Friday, May 15, 2015

Update May 15

Growing seedlings indoors is officially over for this season.  The cucumber starts were moved out to the mobile coldframe and the light unit was unplugged.  I'll dismantle the rack soon and store it.

The coldframe has sweet potatoes and cucumbers, also a few 'extras' of tomatoes, peppers and okra just in case any in the beds don't make it.  I potted the sweet potato slips and don't want to set them out yet.  Next week the weather, which is nice right now, is predicted to turn cool for a few days and I'm leery of setting them into the beds.  They really don't like a shiver.

Eggplant doesn't like cool nights either.  It doesn't need to frost, anything near freezing and the eggplant will never be the same.  That didn't stop me from setting  out eggplant and okra into the beds today.  If it looks like the temperatures could drop too low I'll put some waterwalls around them.  The two solanacae beds are now planted.  This bed got a Bride eggplant just in front of the tomato cages.   The other bed was planted in much the same pattern, but with only three pepper plants and a row of Provider beans at one end.

I put two Silver Queen okra in a small plot on the slope toward the pond.  Amended it with some compost first.  This variety gets huge, about 8 feet tall.

A few feet away is the Titania black currant that was planted a few weeks ago.  It is growing nicely.  I remember black currant jelly when I was a kid, it was one of my favorites.  It's supposed to be very healthy.

This bed originally held the overwintered spinach, now gone.  Starting in the foreground there is Tyee spinach, supposedly a heat tolerant variety, then Red Tropea onions, the first set of cole crops (from which I've removed two kohlrabis), a row of Red Cloud beets, two Millionaire okra plants, a smallish okra, a row of Double Choice spinach and a row of carrots.  It's a busy bed.

The perennial bed is looking good.  Asparagus is in it's second year and hasn't been harvested yet, that's for next year.  It's head high.  The Tribute strawberries are loaded with berries and the herbs look good.

Most of the potatoes are up but there are a few stragglers.  I pulled back the leaf mulch in a few places to expose the growing tips to the sun.  There will always be one or two plants that never sprout. 

The pole beans have germinated and will be climbing soon.  This year I planted Fortex and Marengo Romano, a yellow bean.

Nearly everything is in the beds except for the cucurbits and sweet potatoes.  I always enjoy this time of year, seeing the greenery return and thinking about all the good food that is in store.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Root nodules

The tomato and pepper seedlings have been set into the beds but there is still more work to be done.  Since it looks like there is no chance of a frost any more this season I went ahead and seeded the pole beans, a single six foot row, and set up a trellis.  The pole beans are going in at the south edge of the squash/potato/sweet potato bed, where the rake handle is in the foreground.

I plant to put sweet potatoes in the part of the bed in the foreground of the picture, between the pole beans and potatoes, and winter squash will go in the back.  For the sweet potatoes I'll turn the soil over and till the peas in before planting the slips.  For the squash I plan to just leave the field peas in place and spot dig just enough to get the seeds in.  Squash foliage should quickly overtop the cover crop of peas and shade them out, but I think the sweet potatoes will not handle the competition so well.   Potatoes are just now shooting up through the leaf mulch.

Some of the field peas were pulled up to make room for the row of beans.  All of them had a nice batch of root nodules on them.  I coated the seeds with inoculant before planting.  The nodules contain nitrogen fixing bacteria which can take free nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into a usable form for the plants.  This symbiotic process uses some of the plant's energy but is a net gain for the plant when nitrogen is in short supply, which is usually the case.

The first batch of cole crops is doing well,  I expect that kohlrabi will be ready for picking in about a week. 

Next week the weather report predicts several cool days, with lows in the 40's F.  Once that is past I will transplant the okra, eggplant, sweet potato and cucumber seedlings into the beds.  Spring planting will be finished and I can move on to other projects.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tomatoes and Peppers are in the beds

It's been awhile since the last post.  There seems to be no end to the work that needs to be done around this place.  Things are slowly shaping up and I'm hoping to get back to the next phase of the kitchen remodel soon. . .

Every year it seems to take a little longer to shake off the winter mindset and fully embrace the summer.  Now if I lived in the Caribbean, that would not be a problem.  But even here in the temperate Midwest it's amazing at just how quickly things get very green.  And the trees are not fully leafed out yet.

When the hostas are fully unfurled I'll know it's summer.  This one, in some deep shade, is always the last hosta to come up.

I bought a breeding pair of rabbits two weeks ago.  They are large bunnies, a combination of American Chinchilla and Flemish Giant.  Last year I raised a weaned litter of bunnies of similar parentage.  They made some nice meat rabbits.  They were bred on Monday, so in about a month I expect to see some wee ones. Right now I'm converting the rabbit tractor into a fixed pen.  It's large, 4' by 7' and will have plenty of room for a litter.  This picture was taken midday.  They were more interested in sleeping than in greeting me.

I'm feeding them greens as much as possible.  They still eat some pellets, but they get lots of wild rose, blackberry, dandelion and plantain.  Willow is just starting to leaf out.  It grows like a weed around the pond and will be their main green.  They will also get brassica leaves and any thinnings from pole beans and sweet potato vines.

Speaking of the garden, the weather projection looked very favorable so I went ahead and put the tomatoes and pepper seedlings into the beds.  This year I'm planting two 4' by 8' beds with solanacae, with two tomato cages in each bed.  Last year I tried a sort of experiment with these beds.  They were covered with a few inches of almost finished compost in the fall, which was covered with landscape fabric and several inches of shredded leaves.  I hoped that earthworms would pull the compost down into the soil.  They did that to some extent, leaving the woodier bits on top as a sort of mulch.  The fabric and leaves were removed a month or so ago.

The experimental part - for me - is that the beds were never tilled or turned over, just raked smooth.  There's been very little weed germination since the soil was not disturbed.  For some reason quite a bit of dill has germinated around the edges, but since I want some dill that is not a problem.  I guess the dill seed was in the compost.

Well the tomatoes and peppers were ready to go.

In this bed all the chili peppers were planted - Joe Parker, Ancho, Serrano and Jalapeno.  The other bed gets sweet peppers.  One tomato cage got a Big Beef plant, while the other got one each of Grandma's Pick and Granny Smith.  There's an empty spot for an eggplant, which needs to get a little bigger.  The other bed gets two cages of Super San Marzano sauce tomatoes. 

Still lots of work to be done.  Tomorrow I'll set up a trellis and plant pole beans.  The Tribute strawberries, an everbearing variety, are loaded with flowers.  Shouldn't be long.  The asparagus that I planted last year is nearly head high.

One of these days I'll get back to the kitchen remodel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Garden tour April 21

Here in SW Indiana, the time slot from mid-April to mid-May is critical to get the vegetable garden up and running.  This is when the bulk of the plants are set in or seeded.  This is the time when the garden's output is set up for the rest of the season.  After this, everything else that is done is just icing on the cake.

It's also a time when a lot of seedlings are growing - tomatoes, peppers, okra, eggplant, brassicas and beets are either in the cold frame or under lights.  Pepper seedlings have been outside in the mobile coldframe for nearly two weeks.  Most of the Red Tropea onion seedlings were set into the beds after this picture was taken yesterday.

Indoors the remaining hot weather plants are growing.  I'm ready to start some cucumbers but there's no room under the lights.  A cool spell of weather has set in most of this week, and I'll wait until that passes before moving the tomatoes into the cold frame.  No frost is predicted but the seedlings are still tender and don't like a shiver. Once the weather warms and the tomatoes are in the cold frame I'll start the cucumbers.

So far I've gotten by with just one light unit by transitioning plants into the cold frame, but if the garden gets any bigger I'll have to add another light.  You might have noticed that the seedlings are quite small.  That's because I start them late:  peppers were seeded in late March, tomatoes and eggplant April 4, and okra April 15.  The tomatoes have true leaves now and will start growing really fast.  In 2-3 weeks they will be ready.  I always start okra later.  Okra seeds are bigger than tomato seeds and they germinate and grow very fast.  Same for cucumbers.  Squash I seed directly into the beds.

All six of the asparagus plants that I put in last year have come up now.  The last one came up about a week later than any of the others - I was getting a bit worried.  I thought about stealing a few spears but wanted to make sure that they are all healthy first.  Later I may snitch a few, but this is the plants' first full year and I want them to establish themselves.

Two seedings of brassicas are doing nicely.

The overwintered spinach is looking (and tasting) great.  A few days ago the temperature reached nearly 80 degrees F and I began to worry that they would bolt, but the temperatures fell that night and have been cool ever since, and they show no signs of bolting.  I get to eat fresh spinach for awhile longer!

The Ruby Ring onions and garlic are also growing well.

Much of the garden structures are up now.  I like to give potatoes some support.  Once they get lanky and fall over it seems like they get decimated by fungal infections.  This year I went whole hog with a network of strings and wire to keep the plants standing.  This will provide better air movement through the plants after that mid-summer storm blows through that always seems to knock over the potatoes.

Another part of this bed will be planted with squash, winter and summer.  I put a trellis on the west end of the bed.  First it will support sugar snap peas, and later winter squash.  The snap peas are mixed right in with the field peas planted as ground cover, but I can tell the difference already.

The raspberry trellis is complete.  Tulip poplar saplings, which grow like a weed around here, were used at the top of the trellis.  They will hold the posts apart when the wires beneath need tightening.

Cable clamps hold the wires in place.

I still have to set up more trellis for squash and cucumbers, but most of the heavy work is finished.  Maybe I can get back to the kitchen remodel soon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Potatoes are in

Planting the garden continues.  Last week the onion seedlings went into the ground, yesterday it was time to get the potatoes in the soil.  Last fall I combined three adjacent beds into one large bed.  Mostly this bed will be planted in potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash, which will be rotated through the bed.

A few days ago the section of the bed that gets potatoes was fertilized and turned over with a shovel.  The ground was tilled with the little Earthquake tiller/cultivator to break up the clayish clods.  The tiller has a 43cc 2-stroke motor, not much but it does the job, and it's light enough to pick up and set in a raised bed.

With the extra space the patch for the potatoes is a little larger this year, enough for 4 rows.  I marked off the rows at 21 inches apart.  A board was laid down to reach the inside rows without compacting the soil.  After dusting the seedling potatoes with sulfur they were planted a foot apart in the row.  I dug a hole for each potato with the tool shown and dropped it in, about 5 inches deep.  There are 3 rows of Red Pontiac and 1 row of Kennebec.

Once planted some sulfur dust was sprinkled on top.  For some reason squirrels like to get in and dig up the potatoes, which they won't eat because they are dusted with sulfur.  The sulfur on the soil surface seems to deter them, and it may help bring down the pH of an alkaline soil.  

The sections of the bed that will get squash and sweet potatoes are now growing a cover crop of field peas.  They are coming along slowly and I'm hoping they put on a growth spurt soon.

Mulching the potato patch was next.  Last fall two 4' by 8' beds were covered with a layer of shredded leaves.  Actually these beds were first layered with some compost, then covered with landscape fabric, then with the leaves.  I wanted to see if earthworms would thrive beneath the insulating layer of leaves and mix the compost into the soil, saving me the work.

I raked off the leaves and pulled away the landscape fabric.  There were actually a number of earthworms laying on the surface of the soil, although they quickly burrowed underground.   I tested the soil with a hoe and found that it was nicely loose and friable.  When it's time to set in the tomatoes and peppers I plan to spread some fertilizer on the surface and plant the seedlings.  No tilling or turning over the soil, which will only bring weed seeds to the surface.  It's an attempt to transition over to no-till gardening.

The shredded leaves were spread over the potato patch.  Last year I used shredded leaves as a potato mulch and found they work well, blocking light efficiently and leaving the ground in good condition.

When I dig up the potatoes this summer, the leaves, which will be about half-decomposed, will be put into the compost bin.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday April 13

Sunday was another long workday in the yard.  A lot of rain has fallen the last week and after a few days of sunshine it was finally possible to get some work done.  The lawn is still a little bit squishy though.  Finally, I got a decent picking of the overwintered spinach, a few weeks later than normal but better late than never.

The spinach really sized up with the sunshine.

I picked the largest plant and a few other plants to relieve crowding.  Ten ounces in all.  I tend to forget just how good fresh spinach is, far better than from the store.  Last night I made spinach alfredo along with some apple brats from my neighbor's pigs.  Simple but delicious.

It's still hard to get away from the winter mindset but warm weather is definitely on the way.  The extended winter weather set back my seeding and planting schedule about ten days, but recently the temperatures have been warmer than average and the soil temperatures must be warming to what is normal this time of year.  Things are going back to schedule.

The asparagus I planted last year is finally sending up shoots.  Some sources say it is fine to pick a few shoots the second year, others say wait until the third year.  The plants looked very healthy last year.  My inclination is to wait and maybe harvest a few spears later, once I see that the plants are doing well.

A trellis was built for the raspberry bushes - steel fence posts and galvanized cable.  I put a cable at about twenty inches and four feet high.  Later I may have to add another support at the top of the posts. Three Caroline and three Autumn Bliss plants were planted last year, both primocane varieties that bear in summer and fall.  I got a few pickings of berries from them last autumn, and expect much more this year.

The garden soil was finally dry enough to tranplant the onion seedlings into the bed, about eighty of them.  This year I just "eyeballed" the spots instead of measuring.  Garlic is on the left end of the bed, and the triangular end got a parsley and chervil seedling and was seeded with some cilantro. That makes two beds that are fully planted.

Getting most of the onions out of the mobile cold frame allowed room for the pepper plants to take their space.  Some of these I seeded, others I bought from the greenhouse and repotted into larger pots.  I'm partial to the plastic drinking cups for larger seedlings like peppers and tomatoes.  Night time temperatures are projected at well above freezing for the next ten days, so no worries there. 

So far I've been able to use one growing light indoors by moving seedlings into the coldframe as temperatures warm, making room for new seedlings, like the okra I started this morning.  Soon I'll get the Earthbox out of the coldframe to make room for tomato seedlings.  To see what other people are getting from their gardens, head on over to