Saturday, May 30, 2015

Meandering around the place

I'm growing three kinds of broccoli this year - Major, Green Magic, and Aspabroc, a sprouting broccoli discussed in the last post.  All are early broccolis.  I've been a big fan of Major but Pinetree discontinued it last year, and I tried Belstar as a replacement.  The problem I had with Belstar is the head was not uniform, the outside of the head matured before the inside.  This year I'm trialing Green Magic, which is early but according to Pinetree not as early as Major.  There were still a few seeds of Major left, and here is the plant.

It's forming a nice head.  Now here is the Green Magic.

An even nicer head, picked yesterday.  I just found a worthy replacement for Major. After harvesting the head I stripped off half the leaves and gave them to the bunnies.  They will get the remainder of the leaves today.

The spring-planted spinach is actually heading up, unusual in this garden.  Usually the fall-planted spinach does well, spring spinach is hit or miss.  This is Burpee's Double Choice hybrid, available at the hardware racks, and it has always done well for me.  I also planted Tyee, which is supposed to tolerate hot weather.  It has already bolted and been removed.

Lettuce is still growing well in the SWC's.

The cucumbers were set in a few days ago after the cool weather had passed.  They have to co-exist with brassicas for a while longer.  I tried to leave some room for the cukes when I set in the brassica seedlings.  Once they start up the trellis they will get plenty of light.  A stake was set next to each cucumber seedling to give it a 'path' to the trellis.  There are four Calypso cucumbers, a pickling cuke, and one slicing cucumber, Diva.

I'm about ready to give up on beets.  Something, maybe a cutworm, cuts off the leaves every time.  From the six seedlings that were planted maybe one or two will survive.  Whatever it is, it ignores everything else and cuts down the beets.

There will be plenty of dill for pickles.  For a while I was concerned that there wouldn't be any dill, as the seed I planted took a long time to germinate.  Then it began showing up everywhere, in every bed.  Now I'm thinning it out.  Same goes for cilantro.

The pole beans have found the strings.  In a few days they will reach the top of the trellis.  Behind them are sweet potatoes, Vardaman.

And today was the day to wash the remaining pots that the seedlings were grown in.

One of these days I'll get back to the kitchen remodel.  After the deck is stained, and the levee gets more dirt, and the rabbit has her litter. . . 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Last year I bought a weaned litter of rabbits and raised them in a rabbit tractor that I had built, essentially a mobile pen.  The pen, about 4 feet by 7 feet with an upstairs 'penthouse,' was moved every day to fresh grass.  The bunnies grew well, had room to run and play, and ultimately provided some nice meat for the freezer. 

So this year I wanted to get a breeding pair of rabbits and start my own litters.  I built an outdoor hutch with two rooms, generously sized.  The hutch allows for lots of headroom, enough for the rabbits to stand on their hind legs, which they like to do.  From the same breeder I bought a doe and a buck.  The doe is 3/4 Flemish Giant and 1/4 American Chinchilla, while for the buck the ratios are reversed.  They are large rabbits which will produce large bunnies, what I want. 

This is the hutch that I built last winter for the doe and buck.  The doe's room is 3 feet by 3 feet.  The buck's is slightly less, 32 inches by 3 feet, but he also has a little loft above the storage area in the center where he likes to sleep.  I designed it to open up in the summer for ventilation, while it can be closed off mostly in the winter, when it will be turned to face south.

The base of the hutch is made of two 2x6 skids made of treated lumber.  It tows easily with the garden tractor.  I laid wood planks across the skids and covered them with wood shavings to collect the excrement, which goes into the compost bin.

This is the buck.  I just call him Big Guy.  He's a very laid back sort, kind of like a house cat, likes to be petted and overall very amiable.  He only has one task to perform a few times each year in order to earn his keep, so it's a good thing he is easy to get along with.

And here's another view of him.  I've been trying to get him to use the water bottle but he's a bit stubborn and I usually end up giving in and filling the water dish.

The doe, who I call 'mama,'  (not the most inventive names), was bred on May 4.  I encirled the hutch with some garden fence and put them both in the enclosure.  They took care of things from there.  I put them back in the enclosure a few days later and she had no interest in him, so I'm assuming things went well, which means babies early next month.  Here she is posing on the stand.

She is much different in temperament from the buck.  She's more active and curious and has an independent streak.  She does not like being picked up, although she is letting me pet her now, if she's in a good mood. One thing I know is, given the opportunity, she will try to make her escape.  I found that out when she was in the enclosure.

After the doe was bred I moved her to the rabbit tractor to raise her kits.  The tractor was converted to a pen by the addition of legs and skids.  I found that it is easier to bring food to the bunnies than to herd the bunnies to the upstairs room and pull the pen to a new spot every day.  Besides, if the rabbits are giving a choice of leafy greens they don't have much interest in eating grass. 

I'll put her nest box in the upstairs room in a few days.  Boards can be inserted at the entrance to the penthouse at the top of the ladder to make a barrier that the mother can jump over but not the little ones. 

What are they fed?  Rabbit pellets are reasonably priced and have all the nutrients they need, but there is also plenty of food growing near the hutches.  When I first got them they were used to eating pellets.  I introduced dandelion and plantain to their diets slowly to give their gut fauna time to adjust.  Now I give them as much fresh food as they want, and they love it. 

They get lots of wild rose, which they devour with gusto.  There is a large rose bush behind the pen and I strip off shoots and push them through the cage wire.  Thorns on the young shoots are still soft and not a problem.  I also tried giving them wild blackberry shoots.  They don't have a problem with the thorns but I do - they are nasty. 

Their favorite food is the leaves from any cole crop - broccoli, kohlrabi, etc.  They practically inhale that stuff.  Now when I pick a kohlrabi the leaves go straight to the rabbits instead of the compost bin.  Ultimately the poop finds its way to the bin, closing the circle.  I have also been cutting the field peas which are growing as a cover crop and feeding this to the rabbits.  Thinnings from the pole beans, carrot tops, beet tops, overgrown cucumbers, and scythed cover crops like buckwheat and berseem clover will all be rabbit food this summer.

The other major food source for my rabbits is willow, which grows abundantly around the pond.  I used to cut it down with a chain saw once a year, now I feed it to the rabbits.  They love willow, eat the leaves and tender shoots and gnaw on the bigger sticks for hours.  With the addition of green foods to their diet they have cut their consumption of pellets to about half of what they ate when they were brought to their new home.   In the future I will make a post on their housing, and let you know how the breeding turned out. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day May 25

Well finally I got the cucumber seedlings into the beds.  There was a spell of cool weather and I wanted to wait.  The temperature never went below 40 F, but it was cold enough to kill one of the okra plants and nearly kill another.  With the cucumbers in the last of the seedlings have been set into the beds, and the last trellises have been built. 

It was a decent week of harvests.  They are really picking up now, nearly six pounds for the week.  There were two kohlrabi averaging 1 1/2 pounds, lettuce and the first broccoli.

The broccoli is Aspabroc, an F1 variety known as broccolini in the grocery store.  It looks to me like a standard heading broccoli that was bred to make a small main head, which is shown above, and produce numerous side shoots at the same time.  It remains to be seen how long it will continue producing.  This is the plant after the main head was cut:

The shoots have very long stems which are edible.  One thing for sure, it's very very tasty.  I think of it as a snacking broccoli.

I also picked a nice 'head' of tatsoi, about 1 1/2 pounds. 

I also picked 6 ounces of strawberries, a real treat.

To get the squash bed ready for planting, the cover crop of field peas was cut with shears and set on drying racks.  The dried hay will be fed to the rabbits.  I will write a post about feeding the rabbits in a few days.  To see what other people are growing , go to

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.