Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tying things up at the end of the season

All of the annual plants are out, all the structures have been taken up.  A few days ago the remaining chores were taken care of.  At this point little remains to be done, the beds are mostly ready for winter. 

The asparagus was cut down a few days ago.

Spinach for next spring was planted in early October, two rows of Burpee's Double Choice hybrid and two rows of Viroflay.  It germinated well and is showing the first true leaves.  I'll need to thin it soon.  Before the first major cold arrives the bed will be covered with a plastic greenhouse, helping to warm the soil over the winter.

Success with spring-planted spinach has been hit or miss for me, but the overwintered spinach is pretty dependable, and early, usually mid-March.

Next year's tomato/pepper bed has a nice cover crop of field peas, oats and berseem clover growing in it.  At the rate it is growing there might be a few clippings that I can feed to the rabbits before long.

The sweet potato patch will be next year's potato patch. After the sweet potatoes were harvested I spaded over the soil, seeded it with the same cover crop mix and covered it with some half-finished compost.  The crop has germinated but is too small to see.

I was going to cut down the raspberry plants after the asparagus, but decided to wait.  They succumbed to fungal diseases and produced a small fall crop, another casualty of the wet early summer.  In the fall the vines set out new leaves to replace the leaves that had been lost, so they are still doing some photosynthesis.  I'll wait until these leaves brown then cut them down.

These are everbearing raspberries.  I originally wanted to cut the canes back about halfway to get an early summer crop next year.  Since disease has taken its toll they will be cut back to the ground and the canes burned, so there will be no berries until next fall.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Last harvest of 2015

With a frost predicted late last week it was time to get the rest of the produce inside.  The winter squash that were curing in the sun were brought inside and weighed.  Any peppers that were usable were picked. The chilis - Joe Parker New Mexico, Ancho, and Serrano - were put in the dehydrator.  For sweet peppers there's four Mama Mia Gallo and a lone Jimmy Nardello that went into the refrigerator.

The Teksukabotu squash had an off year, for them, just over 15 pounds total.  Last year they produced nearly three times that amount.  The Metro Butternut squash did well this year with a total yield of 18 pounds (I had cooked two of them before this picture was taken).  Considering the truly awful early summer weather and the extent of fungus infestation I can't really complain.

Then there's the sweet potatoes, about 20 pounds, which were featured in the previous post.

Click on any picture to enlarge.

The grand total for the year - 330 pounds.  That's within two pounds of last years total, although production came from very different vegetables than last year.   This year the heavy hitters were cucumbers, with decent yields from squash, okra, beans and onions.  The cole crops did very well, while tomatoes were a bust.  There's always next year!

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Dave's site at

Saturday, October 17, 2015

First Frost

I wasn't sure if last night would bring a frost.  It was just below freezing when I got up this morning, cold enough to fire up the wood stove for the first time this season.  I went outside to get the rabbits some sweet potato shoots for their morning feed and the signs of frost were evident on the plants.  With a harder freeze on the way tonight it was time to dig them up.  Sweet potatoes are in the background, winter squash plants in the foreground.

I planted Vardamans this year, 11 slips in all  The first plant that was dug up showed a lot of promise.

The sweet potatoes mostly filled a 5 gallon bucket.  All the usable tubers came from the primary plants.  In a good year the plant's vines can send down roots that produce more sweet potatoes, but with the cloudy early summer weather most of these never developed to a usable size. 

I collected the smallish tubers in another bucket, then turned over the entire patch with a shovel to prepare the area for a cover crop.  Spading over the soil turned up a number of small satellite tubers.  In the left of the picture is a very large tuber with extensive vole damage.  Some of it is salvageable.  At the edge of the sweet potato patch the spading turned up a Kennebec potato that was missed when the potatoes were harvested.  It's been sliced into by the shovel but looks perfectly good.   Can you spot it in the picture?

The too-small and deformed tubers will be fed to the rabbits.  That left just over 20 pounds of sweet potatoes for cooking.  Considering the unfavorable weather that's not bad. 

The Fuji apple tree produced three apples this year, its first apples.  The Golden Delicious tree has not produced any apples yet.  The apples are covered with green blotches that look like some sort of algae. 

This apple dropped so I peeled off the skin and sampled it.  Despite its appearance it actually tasted like a Fuji should taste, a little underripe but actually quite good.  I'm hoping that next year both trees will give me a decent crop of apples. 

The last outdoor project for the season is finished.  From the large bed the ground has too much slope toward the pond, hard to walk on when wet and hard to mow.  Two courses of concrete wall blocks make a terrace that greatly improves the area.  The new terrace will also make it easier to spray the Fuji tree, as it was challenging to use a ladder around this tree.  I think, and hope, that this is the last of the terracing that I do on this property.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Wrapping up the season

The season is winding down.  There's still some peppers ripening up, and with a few more sunny days I might get a second batch of chilis for drying.  Last weekend I removed the last of the trellises around the squash patch.  That was after picking the squashes.   Last year the yields of squash were at least double this years'. The butternuts did OK but yields of the Teksukabotu were way off.  I cooked one of the butternuts a few weeks ago and it was fine, the rainy weather in early summer did not affect the flavor. 

The spinach was planted in the front bed in the picture below a week ago.  I planted two rows of Burpee's Double Choice hybrid, a variety that has always overwintered well, and two rows of Viroflay.  All of it has germinated well.  When cold weather arrives I'll put a plastic greenhouse over the bed.  The middle bed has a stand of buckwheat growing as a cover crop.  The rabbits absolutely love buckwheat.

A mix of field peas, oats and berseem clover was seeded in the back bed as a late season cover crop.  It's all germinated and growing well.  I tried seeding berseem clover in mid-summer and it did poorly, guess it does not like the heat.  Next summer I'll try crowder peas as a summer cover crop. 

The raspberries, in their second season this year, had a poor fall crop, another victim of the wet summer weather and fungal diseases.  They are everbearing raspberries, meaning they will have two crops every year if I prune off the upper half of the plants after the leaves die off.  Given the extent of the infection I will prune them to the ground and burn the stems.  That means I will get only they fall harvest next year.

Another 'crop' is growing in the upper end of the pond - cattails.  This part of the pond is shallow and I expect the cattails to eventually march across to the opposite shore.  I'm OK with that as cattails act as a natural scrubber.  Much of the inflow will go through them and be cleaned in the process.  They are also habitat for marsh wrens and red-winged blackbirds.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


I haven't posted much lately.  Two projects have taken up much of my time, and besides the garden isn't having a very good finish with the tomatoes gone. 

A litter of ten bunny rabbits can take up some time.  Not at first, but as they get larger they go through a lot of food, and the grow-out cage needs cleaning every few days.  They eat and crap a lot.  They've gone through 4 bags of feed since they were born, and I forage for them in the morning and the evening.  I've managed to cut down most of the willow growing on the levee for their dinner, fed them scrap foliage from the garden as well as any deformed cucumbers (and some that weren't).  A few weeks ago I found that they liked dogwood shoots, which grow at the edge of the woods.  They also enjoy ragweed, whose pollen causes me much misery this time of year.  

The standard time to fatten a bunny to slaughter weight is 12 weeks.  That would have been September 1 for these rabbits.  At 12 weeks they looked a bit thin and small for butchering, but then I don't have an experienced eye for this sort of thing.  Last year I bought a litter of 8 week old weaned bunnies and raised them to 12 weeks.  They cleaned out to a carcass of just over two and a half pounds on average, which is very typical. 

Well I started butchering rabbits a week ago and I won't go into the details of that except I try to make it a quick death.  They were 13 1/2 weeks old. I was more than a little shocked at their dressed weight - about 4 pounds on average!  I finished the last of them yesterday and now have a freezer packed with rabbit meat.  Next year I'll know not to trust my judgement.  I'll process one or two at 9 weeks, a few more at 11 weeks then the rest at 12 weeks, nevermind how I think they look.

Rabbit is a challenge to cook.  It is a very nutritious meat, high in protein and low in fat.  It is the lack of fat that makes it a challenge.  So what was the first dish I made from the freshly processed rabbits?   Rabbit liver.  Most people either like or actively dislike liver.  I stopped buying liver from the store many years ago because of my concerns with the excessive amount of chemicals put into the feed of an animal raised in factory farms, which is a shame because I really like liver.  The liver is the chemical processing center of an animal.  If you like liver, rabbit liver is one of the best, mild, great flavor, and the rabbit liver is huge for the size of the animal.  Two of them make a meal.  I made liver and onions, using one of the Ruby Ring onions from the garden.  The onions were just carmelized a little when the liver was ready.  This is much better than any calf liver I've eaten.

The rabbit muscle meat is a bigger challenge.  The preparation that has produced the best results for me is roasting the cut-up rabbit.  Here's how I cooked the first rabbit:  Potatoes, carrots and fennel pieces were coated with olive oil and thyme and roasted for 30 minutes in a large baking dish.  The rabbit pieces were browned in rendered bacon fat and dusted with rosemary.  Then onions and the rabbit pieces were added to the dish and the bacon slices laid over the rabbit.  This infuses the meat with delicious bacon fat.  After 30 minutes the pieces were turned over, the bacon put on the new side and roasted another 30 minutes.  The dish is easy to make, very rustic and completely delicious.  Now I need to find additional preparations that are as good as this one. 

The other project that has taken up much of my time is a new walkway behind the house, between the flower beds.  The original walkway was wood, and the frame was buried in the soil.  Of course it was only a matter of time before it fell apart.  The old walkway was dismantled, the posts dug out of the ground and the soil excavated.  On three sides a concrete edger was made after trenching and making forms.  I thought this was necessary since the ground sloped and the whole thing would try to slide down the incline if not supported properly.  The walk got the standard 4 inches of crushed stone, 1 inch of sand and the pavers were set in, then the gaps filled with sand.  A lot of work, requiring more patience than I have, but the results are very satisfying.   The back deck is my peaceful haven.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday September 14

The season is ending with a fizzle not a sizzle.  Tomatoes are long gone, cucumbers are mostly done, but the vines still produce an occasional cuke that I give to the rabbits.  The raspberries have some kind of disease and are not making many berries.  Mostly what's coming out of the garden right now are beans and okra, and the beans are nearly finished.  These are Millionaire okra.  The beans are a mix of Fortex and Provider.  The Marengo Romano pole beans have succumbed to rust.

It seemed like a bad year for beans, but so far 30 pounds have been picked, not bad from a 7 foot row of pole beans and two rows of Provider bush beans.  That's only 5 pounds less than I got last year.

There's still winter squash to be picked - Metro Butternut and Teksukabotu.  I don't know if they will be very good.  They lost most of their leaves to fungus and will probably not fully develop their sugars.  Some of the vines put out new leaves and that may help. The rest of the week will be sunny and I'll harvest them before the next major rain.

The chili peppers look like they will be ready soon.  Most of these plants are used for making chili powder.  The Joe Parker New Mexico in the front are already ripe, while the Anchos are a little behind them.   A week of sunny weather should do the trick.  The tops of the ancho plants were eaten by tomato hornworms.  Usually the parasitic wasps get them, but not this year.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday August 31

It's the last day of August and I'm still getting plenty from the garden.  Snap beans are back big - I got 4 pounds this week and expect as much next week.  Here's the first picking from last week, along with a summer squash and okra:

That may be the last of the summer squash for awhile.  The lone squash plant has lost many of its leaves to fungus but it is showing some new growth.  Since I'm not a huge fan of summer squash I'm not real concerned about its fate.  The tomato plants were removed last week - too much disease - and the last tomatoes were harvested.  Most of them are Super San Marzano, with some Big Beef and a Granny Smith tomato, and of course more okra.

More beans.  The Marengo Romano are outproducing the Fortex about 2 to 1, but that may be a seasonal thing.  They are both tasty but I prefer the Fortex.

A few raspberries - Autumn Bliss and Caroline.  Most of the time I eat them straight off the vine while working in the yard.

And yesterday more beans.

The Calypso pickling cucumbers are nearly finished.  I've canned enough to last at least a year and starting last week any new cukes were fed to the rabbits, who appreciate them greatly.  From 4 plants I picked 62 pounds of pickling cucumbers and another 15 pounds of Diva slicing cucumbers from single plant.  So far this year nearly 260 pounds, a bit ahead of last year.  The tomatoes were a disaster, about 16 pounds from 4 cages, but the cucumbers took up the slack.

To see what other people are growing visit

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

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

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.