Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday October 24

It's late October and this area has not yet been subjected to a freeze.  In fact the weather, with the exception of a few bouts of heavy rains, has been incredibly nice.  The trees are just beginning to change, the winter squash are still blooming and the pepper plants are still producing. 

The second batch of winter squash was harvested yesterday from the screen on the right.  They have been curing in the sun for about ten days.   There are still more squash that I have left on the vine or are curing on the remaining screen.  The squash on the vine still looked a little 'green' and since the vines looked healthy, they were left to ripen.  That's nearly thirty pounds of Teksukabotu and twenty four pounds of Metro Butternut.   The largest Tek squash weighed in at over five pounds.  Looks like I'll be making squash soup.   So far this year I've harvested sixty pounds of Butternuts, thirty-three pounds of Teksukabotu, and twelve pounds of Golden Nugget. 

It's always been a challenge deciding when to harvest winter squash.  A general rule thumb is that it takes seven to eight weeks for a squash to fully mature so it's flavor and sugar content is at a maximum.  About the third week in August I begin removing any newly set squash, on the assumption that the first frost will happen in mid-October, although a few sneaked by me.  You begin to notice indications from each variety of squash that indicate ripeness.  The Teksukabotus develop ribs as they ripen, and the green color loses to black. The Butternuts also change color somewhat.  I also look at the color of the stem.  It should be losing the greens and turning to brown.

The peppers are still growing.  Actually they are loaded with green peppers that will never ripen in time.  I harvested a Mosquitero ancho, a Jimmy Nardello and a few ripe jalapenos.  On the plants there are several Carmen and ancho peppers that are ready to pick.  I plan to roast them on the grill in a few days.  Many of the serrano and jalapeno peppers were left to rot on the vine, since there were no tomatoes with which to make salsa. 

To see what other people are growing, head on over to and take a look.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday October 10

There are still a few green fresh vegetables to be had from the beds.  Very few, but better than nothing.  The summer squash, planted mid-summer, is still making a few squash, and losing just as many as the end rots away.  At this time of year the garden doesn't get enough hours of sunlight to ripen much of anything. 

The lone Silver Queen okra plant is now over eight feet tall.  Like the summer squash it is producing at a trickle.  

Last week I picked a small batch of beans, enough to make a bean stew, but they are nearly finished also.  It's not over though, there are still a lot of winter squash to harvest.  The squash on the screen are about half of the total squash to be had. 

The squash on the left were picked about ten days ago and have been curing in the sun, so they were ready to bring in and weigh - just under forty pounds.  The squash on the right were picked a day ago.  Most of the Teksukabotu squash are still on the vines, which are still green, so I'm leaving them for now.  Along with the Golden Nugget squash I've harvested over fifty pounds of squash, and expect the total harvest to be in excess of one hundred twenty pounds.  Quite a year for squash, which makes up for the bad year for tomatoes.

The peppers have done well this year.  They just keep making more peppers, even though there is no chance they will ripen.  This Jimmy Nardello plant is full of green peppers.

Sunday I planted the bed for overwintered plants.  Around the beginning of December a plastic greenhouse will be set over the bed.  This year I put in a row of bunching onions, a row of winter lettuce mix from Pinetree, a row of mache, and three rows of spinach.  Garlic will be planted later this month.  The mache and bunching onions are new for me. 

To see what other people are growing head on over to

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Paw paws

Lately I've been working on the old fence line between the yard and the pasture.  The fence is no longer dividing anything and what's left of it needs to be removed.  Like many abandoned fences it became the start of a wooded corridor.  There are a few large trees near the fence, in fact a large white oak simply engulfed the fence so the old fence appears to go right through the tree.

In 2008 a large sugar maple came down in a storm.  The tree split into three equal forks about chest high, and all three forks came crashing down.  The base of the tree was hollow, so hollow that I was amazed that the tree stood as long as it did.  After eight years this is what's left.

The loss of the tree opened up the area to sunlight and numerous saplings sprang up around the tree.  A few weeks ago I noticed that a number of paw paw saplings were growing in a patch near the stump.  I spotted a few paw paw fruits on the branches.  I don't know if any readers have ever tasted a paw paw.  I found some a few years ago while hiking and found them indescribably delicious.  At any rate the thought of eating ripe paw paws motivated me to remove any other tree species from the patch and let the paw paws have it to themselves.

The paw paw is an understory tree, usually growing beneath the giants.  I think it's very attractive.  It has large deeply veined leaves.

The largest of the paw paw saplings looks like it is well on it's way to becoming a tree, about twenty feet tall.

So far I've taken out a half dozen or so saplings that were competing with the paw paws.  Most of the saplings are straight and will find use in the garden.  There's still a lot of removal work to do as there are many saplings growing very close together, as well as a tangle of multiflora rose and wild blackberry in the patch.  Since this is a fairly narrow corridor of woods I'm selecting for the trees I want to have and removing the rest.  Near the paw paws I removed a deformed green ash to give this dogwood, the forked tree, more space.  The tree to the right of the dogwood with the severe lean looks like it has died and will also be removed.

Near the old stump there are a green ash, sugar maple, and redbud tree growing within a foot or so of each other.  I'll leave the redbud tree, since it's a very attractive flowering tree, and remove the others.

North of the paw paws the fence corridor broadens to about fifty feet wide and is populated mostly by tulip poplars.  It looks like these trees all started at the same time, when the area, which was likely mowed or tilled, was left to its own devices as the lot was prepared for a home.  I'm guessing these trees began life around 2000.  Tulip poplars are very fast growing, straight trees that are often the first trees to spring up in an abandoned field.  I removed a number of 'near neighbors' several years ago and the remaining trees are growing quickly.  Someday they will reach a size that has commercial value but not in my lifetime.  It's the wood of choice for paintable millwork, straight grained and easily milled.

North of the poplar trees, on the other side of the pond, is a fast growing sycamore tree.  This tree was part of a patch of sycamores, five or six of them, that appeared about five years ago.  I removed all but the largest tree and also the invasive vining honeysuckle that was engulfing them.  The tree that was saved has rewarded me by growing leaps and bounds, probably four to five feet a year.  That's not surprising since it has a bottomless water supply and full sunlight all day.  In ten years this will be a substantial tree, if it lives to a hundred a giant.  It's a tree I can admire from the deck.

That's pretty much my strategy for landscaping around the edges of the yard - find wild growing trees that I think add to the mix and remove the trees I don't want.  As for the paw paw fruits, I can't find them now.  Something, probably deer or raccoons, got them before I could.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Grilled pizza - success at last

In an earlier post I mentioned that I was trying a new thing in cooking - grilling pizza.  It's taken about six tries to get this right but the end product was as good as I can hope for, and I wanted to share this with readers.  Making grilled pizza has been a real challenge.  The dough has to be right, the grill must be at the right temperature and the timing is critical.  Unless you are an accomplished cook it's not likely that you will get it right the first time, but be patient.

The pizza was made on a Charbroil TruInfrared charcoal grill.  If your are using a Weber or other grill the amounts of charcoal used and times in the grill will likely be different.  I'll show you what I did.

First off, the dough.  I've learned that pizza dough is wetter than bread dough.  The recipes that I used for a guide as well as the bread machine recipe called for about 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water.  I used half whole wheat and half white flour, and added tablespoon of olive oil. The pizza cycle in the Panasonic bread machine was used because I'm a lazy arse and don't want to knead dough.  This is a 10 minute knead/ 10 minute rest cycle which is repeated.  As soon as the second knead was finished the dough was put in a bowl and allowed to double.  It was then punched down and divided into 3 equal pieces, 2 of which were put in the freezer.  This pizza was made from one of the frozen balls.  I took the dough ball out of the freezer this morning and put it in a metal bowl to defrost.  If you have worked with yeast and dough this is probably basic stuff. 

OK, so the making of the pizza:  By evening the dough ball had expanded a little and looked ready.  I started the charcoal - about 50 briquettes.  Your mileage may vary with your grill.  There's no air intake control with the Charbroil grill so it's important to start off with the right amount of charcoal to get the proper temperature.  A Weber will probably take a little more charcoal.

Then I began making a crust.  The ball was put on a floured board and punched out a little.  The extra flour on the board actually gets the dough to a workable state where it doesn't stick to everything.  The dough was stretched until it became what looks like a pizza crust.  Once the crust was stretched I moved it onto a cookie sheet dusted with corn meal.  The corn meal is like many tiny ball bearings and lets the crust slide off the sheet onto the cooking grate.  I've found this transfer of the fresh dough onto the cooking grate is the trickiest part, and the corn meal really helps.

Once the charcoal was ashed over it was dumped out of the chimney and the briquettes were pushed out to the edge, making a ring.  The cooking grate was oiled, set in place and the lid was closed.  I waited for the temperature inside to reach 300 F by the thermometer on the grill.  Once the grill was at temperature the crust was slid off the sheet onto the grates. This is the pre-bake of the crust.

I learned from the previous attempts that the pre-bake takes about five minutes.  At about three minutes I lifted the lid and brushed some olive oil on the top of the crust.  I was looking for the dough to make some gas and blister a bit, and that's what it did.  Perfect.

After five minutes on the grill the dough was picked up with a spatula and flipped over onto the cookie sheet.  Yes, flipped over.  The toppings go on the side that was toward the heat.  At this point the crust is stiff enough that it can be handled easily. There it is, a nice golden brown but not burnt. although it's a bit more done at the edges, which are closer to the coals.

The crust was taken inside the house for topping.  I've found that there is no rush to top the pizza.  The grill remains at cooking temperature for about 45 minutes, enough time to make two pizzas actually.  The crust was spread with a thin layer of marinara sauce and topped with mozzarella, basil, Jimmy Nardello peppers and pepperoni.  Since the dough has been toughened by the heat, the toppings do not soak in and make the crust soggy.  Here it is ready for baking:

Then came the easy part, returning the pizza to the grill and baking it.  At this point the grill had reached 375 F, a little hotter than I wanted but not a deal breaker.  The temperature in this grill can be controlled to some extent by the vents in the cover, and I had closed them which raises the temperature.  This may not sound like a very hot temperature but keep in mind that the grate is hotter and will transfer heat into the pizza by conduction.  The pizza was baked for eight minutes then put on the cookie sheet to cool.  I would have liked a temperature of 350 F and a bake of ten minutes but it came out fine.

The pizza was delicious.  It could have benefited from some garlic, but you can only improve when there is imperfection.   There was still plenty of heat in the grill.  No point in wasting it.  I put a batch of Jalapeno peppers on it. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Winter bed, cover crops, rabbit forage

I'm still working on a cover cropping strategy for the vegetable beds and I'll try to expand on this in future posts.   For me the number one reason to cover crop is to put nitrogen in the soil, which is done with legumes such as peas and clover.   Nitrogen is the one essential nutrient that can evaporate into the atmosphere, mostly as ammonia.  A compost bin holding plant matter and animal manure will slowly lose nitrogen while the water-soluble nutrients will remain.

Last March I planted field peas and oats in the future squash bed and covered the seeds with compost.  Once established the green shoots were harvested with shears every day for rabbit forage.  The bunnies loved it, especially the field peas, which is a high protein forage.  The roots of the peas were thick with nodules that held the nitrogen fixing bacteria, so I know that nitrogen was being added to the soil.  Once the heat killed the cover crop it left a nice mulch on the soil that also suppressed weeds. This year the squash has produced a record crop, which may be due as much to the weather as the soil.  At any rate I'd consider the cover cropping a win/win here.

Later in the summer after the cole crops were finished in their beds I planted buckwheat, again covering the seeds with compost.  I was hoping that berseem clover would be the summer legume of choice, but it never germinated or grew well enough to work.  Next summer I will plant crowder peas, a heat tolerant legume.

Cole crops were grown in these two beds.  The bed in front got the early plantings and was finished by the end of June, when I seeded buckwheat and topped the seeds with compost.  I don't have a seed drill and have found that covering the seeds with compost protects them from birds.  The buckwheat by this point went to seed and I debated whether to dig it in or pull it out.  I didn't want volunteer buckwheat everywhere so I pulled it out, very easy since buckwheat has shallow roots.

The bed in back got the later plantings of brassicas.  It was seeded with buckwheat and field peas in late August.  The field peas made it through a few weeks of very warm weather and have established themselves, while the buckwheat acted as a 'nurse' crop.  I've been harvesting the plants for over a week and feeding the cutting to the rabbits.  That bed is their salad bar.

As for the rabbits, they began eating greens at a little over three weeks old.  That takes some pressure off the doe to provide milk.  I've never had a problem with young rabbits eating greens, in spite of warnings about bloating.  I think the mother may provide them with the necessary gut bacteria in her milk.   The babies are still not big enough to eat pellets.  Here they are at 25 days with a willow branch to feed on.  They've already learned to use the water bottle.

Back to the beds - the one brassica bed was cleaned up, hoed and raked.  This will be the winter bed, where cold tolerant crops are overwintered under a plastic greenhouse.  In the past I have planted only spinach for overwintering but this year I'm going to expand the plant list.  I'm going to plant corn salad (mache) and a winter lettuce mix from Pinetree.  Also a row of bunching onions.   And garlic.  I'm not sure how garlic will respond to the relatively higher soil temperatures under the plastic but found someone on the internet who tried it and got earlier garlic.  I'm going to plant it there because that's the only spot available now.

So there's a bed ready for planting, but not quite.  September has been unseasonally warm, more like August, and the lettuce, spinach and mache won't germinate in warm soil.  (Not complaining.  The weather has been spectacular.  No bugs.  Cool nights).  That problem was solved two days ago when the area got two inches of rain, followed by a sharp cooling.  It's now more like October, and I expect to begin planting everything except garlic in a few days as the soil loses heat.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday September 26

There hasn't been a lot to harvest in September compared to years past.  Sometimes it seems like the vegetable garden is a bust this year, but it's really not, although losing the tomatoes to blight was certainly a disappointment.  I'm still getting a steady trickle of okra, mostly from the lone Silver Queen plant which peaks this time of year, while the Millionaire and Jambalaya F1 plants are just about finished.  Twelve pounds of okra this year, not bad.

Snap beans have also slowed to a trickle.  Maybe I'll get one more picking and that will be it for the year.   A seven foot row of pole beans has produced eighteen pounds for the year.  I would have liked more for freezing.  I still haven't found a better pole bean than Fortex.   It looks like the summer squash will produce another squash.   The plant was seeded mid-summer and took a long time to get established.  Now its huge but most of the squash die on the vine.

The top performer this year is the winter squash.  It looks like the best year ever for them.  A few weeks ago I harvested the Golden Nugget squash from the single plant that survived the borer and set them on the screens to cure.  Now cured they were taken inside and weighed.  It's the first time I've grown this squash and I'll probably grow it again.  It's very flavorful.

This harvest was nine and a half pounds. Combined with the two already consumed that's just over twelve pounds from one plant.

The remaining squash on the vine are Metro Butternut and Teksukabotu.  A rule of thumb for winter squash is they need about two months from fruit set to full maturity.  I start removing any squash that set around the third week of August.  The average first frost around here is mid-October although that can vary by several weeks.    This weekend I went through the patch to harvest any that looked ready, looking for the squash that had been on the vine longest.  How do you tell?  With butternuts the color is helpful.  Immature ones are pale while the more mature ones develop a deeper hue.  The stem is probably the best guide.  It should show some brown.

I went through and picked the squash that looked the oldest.  Also any squash on vines that had already died.  Squash bugs are just now infesting the patch, but they seem to concentrate on spent leaves.  I try to go through the patch every few days and remove those leaves.  Here's what I got on the first pass, seventeen butternuts and one Teksukabotu:

The blotches come from contact with the ground.  I turn them up to face the sun.  That's eighteen squash that probably weigh at least 40 pounds.  It's about a third of the total squash in the patch, so a total yield of at least 120 pounds of winter squash is not unreasonable, and that's from about one hundred square feet of planting.  Yes it's a very good year for winter squash.  To see what others are growing, head on over to

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pallet planter and plans for next year

With the kitchen remodel dragging on into Spring I wasn't able to implement any changes to the vegetable garden this year.  Next year will be different and I'm getting a start on it now.  It starts with the perennial bed, which has six asparagus plants, everbearing strawberries and herbs.  I've realized that the bed can't produce enough asparagus or strawberries, so one of them has to go.

The Tribute strawberries provide a nice harvest in May and June, then they take a break for a few weeks and produce a trickle of berries the rest of the year.  These berries are poor quality and the birds get many of them.  Next spring they will make way for more asparagus.  I thought I'd take a shot at making a strawberry planter, and had read about converting a pallet into a planter.  And there is a pallet sitting in the pole barn. 

It's a straighforward little project.  Two layers of landscape fabric were stapled to the back side and some slats were added to keep it all sound, a piece of one-half inch screen was fastened to the bottom, some repairs were made to the front and some legs were added:

This is the back side showing the landscape fabric bolstered by thin slats of wood.  The legs are attached to stakes:

I added potting mix from a SWC that grew, unsuccessfully, anise fennel, then had to buy another bag to fill the planter.   Some space at the top was left to add water:

Then plugs were taken from the strawberry patch and planted into the mix.  The ground slopes toward the planter and forms a bowl-shaped depression in front of the planter.  I packed more potting mix at the base which contacts the mix in the planter (the bottom is screened).  When I water I add water to the top and bottom.  Seems to work so far.

The biggest concern is how will they do over the winter.  One option is to lay the planter down flat and put some straw over it.  The other option is to make a sort of insulating blanket by filling some burlap bags with straw and covering the planter with them.   In the spring I'll replace any plants that have died from the main bed, then take out the rest and put in the asparagus crowns.  If the planter does its job that's fine.  If it doesn't work out then I'm out the price of a bag of potting mix, which can likely be re-purposed.