Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Peas that Snap

How do you describe sugar snap peas?  Sublime?  There’s really nothing to compare them to.  The peas have arrived, wow have they arrived.  And this is looking like a great year for them after two bad ones.  The month of May was sunny with seasonal temperatures, except for Memorial Day weekend when we had three days with highs in the 90’s.  Last night there was a much needed rain and the forecast for the next week is for high’s in the 70’s.  I think the peas made it through the heat, but another hot day might have finished them.  There’s eight feet of trellis and the peas are thick and growing fast. 

I like to pick sugar snaps after the peas have filled out inside but before the pod gets woody, that’s when the peas develop their sugars.  There’s a bit of vein but that can be removed when the ends are pulled off.  And are they ever delicious, raw or cooked.  There’s no vegetable that I like better, none.  Sweet, green and crisp all together.  Looks like I’ll be giving some away. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Overview

Growing one’s food is part of not only becoming more self-sufficient but also less dependent on a top-down business model to supply ones needs.  I believe that the greatest problem in our society is the obscene excess of corporate power.  The “people” who really control things in our society have last names of Inc. and most of our elected “representatives” of either party are simply owned outright by the Inc’s.  The best way to mitigate the power of corporations is to reduce one’s dependence on them.  One reason I grow food.

Apologies in advance for the different fonts but Blogger is changing things on a whim.
It’s been a productive week:  Spinach 10 oz, lettuce 12 oz, kohlrabi 9 oz, and tatsoi 18 oz.  I’ve never grown Tatsoi before.  In the soil it looks a lot like spinach, but once picked I see it resembles Bok Choi more, not surprising as they are closely related.  I tried stir-frying some and it’s very good, mild and flavorful.  It should be good in soup – time to hunt some preps on the internet.  I pulled up the kohlrabi on Sat morning since the high was predicted in the 90’s.  It could have gotten bigger in a few days but the heat wave may ruin it.  Better to pick it now.
The past two years the month of May was cloudy and cool, then after Memorial Day a switch was flipped and the highs went into the 90’s in June.  Not so this year.  May has been very sunny and dry, but mostly seasonal in temperature.  Regular watering has been a necessity and the plants have grown quickly.  Most are about three weeks ahead of last year.  This weekend we are getting a heat wave, high’s in the 90’s, then temps return to seasonal averages.  It’s going to be tough on some plants.  Here’s a pic of all the beds. 

The greens bed has produced nearly all the green vegetables so far this season.  There’s a cage over the bed because I don’t want to share with the rabbits.  The spinach is out now.  Too much sunscald and insect damage.  I salvaged what I could a few days ago and threw the rest in the compost bin.  I planted a row of carrot at one end and mulched with shredded paper.  There’s some brassicas and lettuce left.  If the lettuce makes it through this heat wave without bolting it should produce for a few more weeks.  The open spot will get a patch of beans. 

The brassica bed is just starting to produce some food.  They don’t handle this kind of heat very well, especially since the days are cloudless, and by midday are wilted badly - that’s when they get a shot of water.  There’s two brussell’s sprouts in front.  The rest is a mix of broccoli, kohlrabi, bok choi, cauliflower and cabbage.  There’s also Super Sugar Snaps on the trellis and two cucumbers – a Diva and a Picolino – looking for space on the trellis. 

The snap peas are very vigorous this year.  I just hope they get through this heat wave and keep producing.  Some will be ready to pick today or tomorrow.   I think they are best when the peas fill out a little, since the peas have the most sugar. 

The solanacae bed is way ahead of last year.  All the plants except the eggplant went into the bed on May 1.  There’s one Rosa Bianca eggplant in front that is growing well, in spite of some pressure from flea beetles.  In the tomato cages there’s a Black Krim on the left and Supersonic (F1) on the right.  I expect about 40 pounds from the Supersonic.  The Black Krim, an heirloom, is a new variety for me and I don’t know what to expect, but the vendor that I bought it from says the flavor is excellent.  The cages are suspended on fence posts so the bottom is two feet off the ground.  I’m trying to get them as tall as possible, again for better yields.  Both plants are already up to the cage bottom.  I’ll set bamboo stakes crossways to help support the stems, and will remove some of the suckers this week.  

This is what last year's solanacae bed looked like on Memorial Day (the plants on the right side are brocolli: 

The peppers are also doing well.  I got lucky in that the tallest peppers are on the north side of the bed.  All the varieties are new this year.  There should be the makings of salsa in there.

The onions are looking good.  They are flanked by carrots at both ends.  The tall plant is cilantro.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with it but will scatter some of the seeds around for sure.  I’ll need some fresh leaves when it’s time to make hot sauce.  Other herbs are parsley, garlic chive, greek oregano, sage and thyme.

That’s a Cocozelle summer squash in front and a Honeybear acorn in the middle.  The Cocozelle is supposed to be suitable for container planting which I hope means it won't take over the entire bed and part of the yard.  The butternut at the back is from direct seeding and is a few weeks behind the other squash.  They have a way of catching up very quickly so I’m not too worried.  It’s the one squash that never gets the borer.   It’s more of a viner and will climb the trellis.

The potatoes went into the trapezoidal bed this year.  The bed has an odd shape since it follows the ground contours.  The two leftmost cages contain Red Pontiacs, which do really well here.  The right front cage contains a blue potato, not sure of the varietal name, it’s a new variety for me.  The right back cage has Yukon Golds, which should be the earliest of the group.  Provider beans planted May 1 are growing between the two front cages. 

A little aside here.  I mainly plant bush beans as a filler.  I set aside one or two patches for the first plantings.  The remaining patches go wherever space opens up as things come out.  I know that spaces will open up when cole crops come out, and also in the greens bed.  Other spaces will open up when potatoes and onions come out.  

This bed has six rows of parsnip, a row of scallions, and two Red Burgundy okra at the far end.  The okra were set in on May 10 and have been slow getting started.  Maybe this hot weather will get them motivated to grow.  The open space in front was recently seeded with Roma beans, which are just starting to come up.

That’s the overview.  Most everything is in at this point.  I try to maximize yields from a limited space with a lot of vertical structure.  From this point on the biggest challenge is dealing with things that also want to eat the plants. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

What the. . . ?

This morning like any other morning I got up and made a pot of coffee.  Mug in hand I stepped out on the front porch for some fresh air.  I was looking at the plants in the flower beds around the porch when I saw it.  The perennial that I set in about a week ago, a Foxglove, looked like it needed life support.  The plant had been dug completely out of the soil, it’s roots stripped of any soil and many of the roots separated from the plant.  And I knew what was responsible for this wanton act of vandalism.  It’s got squirrel written all over it.  

Let me say right here that the porch beds are my pride and joy so I took this kind of hard.  I built them last year starting with the edging, then dug in a yard of compost into the hard clay soil.   I’m not a landscaper, and can’t plan out a bed since I don’t know the plants well enough.  I bought one or two shade tolerant plants at a time and put them in the bed, trying to get a diversity of foliage types.  A few did not make it, but most did.  Slowly the pieces came together.  The Foxglove was the last plant to go in, and it looked like it fit in nicely. 

This could be the work of a rabbit but not likely.  Squirrels like to dig, and they have a sordid history of digging holes in the gardens.  Why would it do this?  It’s tempting to believe that the animal does this out of pure malice, and I’m still not so sure it doesn’t, but there’s got to be a reason.  Some annual begonias that I planted about a month ago were also dug up a few days after they were put in.  What all these plants have in common is they were rooted in a sort of wood chip potting mixture.  There must be something in this that attracts the squirrels and drives them to dig through the roots.  At any rate I’ll be amazed if this plant makes it through this trauma. 

The moles have been a real nuisance in the beds this year.  Last year they were not much of a problem, but this year they are on a rampage.  And I know what they are going after – earthworms.  They’ll eat every earthworm in the beds.  I move the trap every day, but so far no luck.  One mole has been running roughshod through the brassica bed, laying down a network of trails.  The larger plants can handle the disturbance, but when one of these rodents tunnels near the roots of a smaller plant the void can leave the roots unable to take up water.  So far I’ve been able to press down the tunnels every day and keep the smaller plants from dying, although some have wilted badly.

The sugar snap peas have done very well this year in the abundant sunshine.  They are at the top of the trellis and full of young peas.  Problem is the next two or three days are supposed to have highs in the mid 90’s.  And peas just don’t like temperatures above 90 degrees.  I’m hoping the pods that are already set will fill out.  If the heat wave lasts only a few days the plants may stop setting flowers then resume when temperatures go down.  I’ll make sure they have plenty of water this weekend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Disjointed observations

Tuesday was time to mow the banks of the pond, which I do once, maybe twice, a year.  Most of the pond shore gets benign neglect and is a wildlife habitat. The shore area bordering the lawn is cut with the trail cutter.  Cutting favors the grasses and sets back the broadleaf weeds and trees.  I'll put the picnic table underneath the hop hornbeam tree on the right - a place to clean fish in the shade.

I put chains on the drive wheels of the garden tractor and removed the mower deck, then hooked up the brush cutter, essentially a big mower that’s towed.  The mower is backed down the bank as far as I feel comfortable, then pulled up to level ground.  I got most of it, but will have to finish some areas with a string trimmer.  The original owners hand mowed all the way around the pond.  Can’t imagine.

I’m not sure what to do with the squash.  There’s three squash in one bed – a Metro Butternut, a Honeybear Acorn, and a Cocozelle summer squash, which is supposed to be a more modest sized plant.  When I set out the seedlings on May 3 I planted two seeds near each seedling as a backup.  Then there were two cool nights with temps in the low 40’s.  The cool nights set back the butternut seedling while the others did OK.  So now the butternut is still small with a lot of small leaves, and the plant that came up from seed is almost as large.  I’ll probably remove the older butternut and leave the one that came up from seed.  I’ve found that plants that get off to a bad start and don’t look “right” early on often don’t do well later.

The other two squash plants each have a second smaller backup plant a few inches away.  I’m wondering if I should just leave both of them grow.  I don’t know if two closely grown squash will produce the same as a single squash.  Maybe each squash plant likes its space.

I’ve got one cucumber plant off to a decent start.  It’s a newer variety from Pinetree called Picolino. I also started some Diva’s indoors and out of three seeds none germinated.  Just my luck, I tested the seeds for viability last winter and both seeds tested came up (the seeds are three years old).  I planted four more seeds and one came up. That plant was just set out but there’s a lot of competing plants around it. 

I’m hoping the Picolino cuke will get up onto the trellis before the Pakman broccoli gets any larger.   The broccoli may have to lose a leaf or two.

This asiatic lilly is really a beaut this year.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Showing off

Not bragging.  Well maybe I am a little, but the first brocolli is always very cool.  Last year I noticed that this broccoli variety, Major, stays low, usually not much over a foot high.  I realized that I could include it with the first set of brassicas that are transplanted into the greens bed while the plastic greenhouse is still on the bed.  It turned out that the strategy was moot since we had a very warm spring and the greenhouse came off soon after the plants were set out.  Bottom line the broccoli got into the bed about two weeks earlier than in the past, and today it’s ready about two weeks earlier. 

And it’s a beauty, isn’t it?  I’ll harvest it at the end of the day.  I’m guessing it’s at least 12 oz.  One thing I recently noticed about this variety is the leaves become blue as the plant makes a head.  Maybe a lot of varieties do this and I never noticed.  It may have something to do with the alkaline soil here.  After cutting this head I'll leave the plant and hopefully get some side shoots from it. 

A lot of things can be repurposed for the garden.  I’ve been building foundation beds around the house and bought a tray of Ajuga plugs to plant in the beds.  Ajuga is a very tough groundcover that works great along walkways and does well in part shade.  The tray it came in has 32 pockets and a 3.5 inch pot for each pocket.  I like the deep pots for starting brassicas, eggplant, okra – anything that develops a deeper root system.  This setup will keep the pots from tipping over.  Perfect.  I wonder how much of this stuff gets tossed out routinely by landscaping companies. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012 Quick Tour

For the week radish 12 oz, lettuce 11 oz, spinach 6 oz.  Just over 20 pounds for 2012.  I don’t know what the lettuce varieties are, it’s a Burpee’s Summerlong mixture.

The spinach is Burpee’s Doublechoice hybrid.  This is my favorite spinach.  A real spinach flavor, thick leaves.

Here in the midwest this is a critical time of year, when plants are getting established.  All the summer crops – tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash, okra – are planted now.  The plants will grow a lot just in the next two weeks.  By Memorial Day most of the beds should be covered in green.  Many of the plants are one or two weeks ahead of schedule because of the warm weather. 
This is the greens bed, the bed that has produced most of the green vegetables so far.  There’s still plenty of lettuce and spinach in there.  How much I get will depend on the weather.  So far it’s been seasonal, except for several days in the 80’s in early May.  The large plant with blue leaves is a Major Broccoli.  The head is just about ready to pick.  I’ll leave this plant in the bed after the head is cut and see how many side shoots it will produce. 

The solanacae bed.  There are two tomato plants, Supersonic and Black Krim, that are almost to the bottom of the cages.  There’s a Rosa Bianca eggplant and six pepper plants: Holy Mole, Carmen, Poblano, Hot Poppa, Franks, and an Italian frying variety whose name escapes me.
The brassica bed.  That’s a tatsoi with the spinach-like leaves and a sage in the front.  There was a gap in seedling production because of my travels so there are a lot of small plants in the bed right now, although some of the broccoli’s are sizing up.  At the far end there's two brussell's sprouts. There’s sugar snap peas on the trellis and a new variety of cucumber that I’m trying called Picolino.

The onion bed with a row of carrots and some herbs in the triangle.  Lesson learned: onion seeds keep only one year.  It’s a mix of mostly copra from seed and red onion from sets.

The squash bed.  That’s the last row of radish in the front.  The radish are usually out by the time the squash go in.  The squash were set out really early this year, the first of May.  The butternut is struggling, with some burnt leaves.  There were two nights with lows in the 40’s, maybe that did it.  The Honeybear Acorn and Cocozelle summer squash are doing OK.  I set in two seeds around each transplant for backup.

The parsnip bed is in front.  It’s about ready for thinning.  There’s two Red Burgandy okra at the left end and space for some bush beans at the other end.  The bed in back has four cages with potatoes that are all up now.  There’s two cages of Red Pontiac, one cage of Yukon Gold, and one cage of blue potatoes that I’m trying for the first time.  There’s two rows of Provider beans between the front cages that are up now.
Time to keep my fingers crossed.  There’s little bug pressure this time of year except for cutworms, and sprays of Bt around new seedlings appear to be keeping them under control.  Probably the biggest concern are late spring storms, but we haven’t had any yet that are damaging.  Cheers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


To my mother.  Born 1918.  Fort Wayne North Side High School Class of 1936.  Her mother came to this country in search of a better life.  Mom's mom was 18 when she and her husband left the Rheinpfalz area of Germany shortly before World War I and bought a small farm in what is now the outskirts of Fort Wayne.  They raised produce and sold it at the downtown farmer’s market.  He was killed in a farm accident, when hornets attacked the plow horses and he was caught in the plow. 
My grandmother was left to raise two girls in a new country.  She remarried and had my mother.  The marriage was rocky and short-lived.  My grandmother and her daughters moved into a tiny house near downtown Fort Wayne.  Grandma Rosie, as we called her, became the head cook at a restaurant in Wolf & Dessauer, the largest department store downtown.     
It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like for people at that time.  When my mom was a little girl my grandfather took her back to Germany with him.  My grandmother had to take the boat to Germany and sue to get her daughter back.  Mom never wanted to talk about her childhood much, except how much she wanted to get out of that house.  She met my dad, they married and they had three kids.  My dad started a car repair shop.  He ran with a rough crowd – car people – and knew how to raise hell.  Mom and my father developed a real talent for making each other miserable. 
Her favorite song was Clair de Lune.  She was the fastest typist and stenographer in her class in high school.  She worked as a secretary at Tokheim Pump for several years.  She grew Marglobe tomatoes and canned dill pickles.  We all went to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Sunday.
They say the enemy of the good is holding out for the perfect, and that’s a trap that my mother fell into.  Eventually the gap between the ideal and the reality became a place where she lived.  I know she wanted the best for her kids, but often a good outcome was in reach and she could not see it.  She was often more of a hindrance than a help.  And by the time I was in my teens I could only think of getting out of that house.
It was a rocky trail for me too.  I dropped out of college, worked different jobs, mostly in construction, and survived on the streets for a few years.  I finally returned to college and got a degree in chemistry, then a salaried position.  I was the first in my family to get a college degree. 
Mom passed away in 1977.  Life was not easy for her.  I sometimes think if her situation had been different, then she could have lived to her potential.  I know she deserved better. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday May 7

Production is picking up and there’s some variety now.  I got kohlrabi 9 oz (1 bulb), pak choi 9 oz (1 head), lettuce 19 oz, radish 7 oz, spinach 3 oz.  The small head of spinach is the first of the spring planted spinach, a little small but I wanted a spinach omelette for breakfast.  For the year 18.9 pounds – 7.6 pounds of that is parsnip from last year.  I pulled the purple pak choi this morning since it’s growth appears to have stopped in the recent warm weather.  Compared to 2011 the beds have produced more lettuce and less spinach.   

The beds are mostly planted up now.  Due to the warm spring most of the plantings were moved up about two weeks on average.  The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant were set in a week ago.  A few stragglers haven’t gone in yet – two okra plants, a Diva cucumber plant, and the last set of brassicas that aren’t quite ready for the great outdoors just yet.  The first patch of Provider green beans was planted about a week ago.  Provider is supposed to be a little more cold tolerant than most green bean varieties, so it was the first bean planted.