Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Sep 25

Usually I total up the pickings on Monday, but yesterday I stayed home to get some work done around the house.  The workshop and pole barn were badly in need of some organization.  There’s no internet connection at the house since my choice is between dial-up and satellite, so I had to wait until today to post. 

The past week has been cloudy and cooler than normal.  A frost advisory was issued for Monday morning but it turns out the temperature got just below 40 degrees at its lowest.  The low temps have slowed but not stopped production and I got decent yields for the week.  Monday the catfish had vamoosed.  Every day they gather around the deck in the late afternoon expecting an evening meal, until yesterday.  It looks like the cool days have sent them into deeper water for now.  I really wanted a catfish dinner last night but they had other plans.  
I pulled up some carrots.  Some are a little malformed but they’ll be fine in beef stew.

I got some more bush beans, mostly Romas with some Providers in the mix.  For the week 2.4 pounds of beans.  If we get some more sunny days there should be lots more beans.

And a few Supersonic tomatoes
Here’s a chart of the totals for the year.  Not quite 150 pounds.  It’s been a difficult year.  A number of summer crops had gaps in production.  So far the top producer has been the cucumbers, most of that from one Diva plant.  Tomato production is way down, not even 15 pounds this year.  I’m hoping for more tomatoes before it frosts.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fall Garden, or It's not over until it's over

The summer was a real scorcher, but since mid-August it has been cooler than normal.  Plants are still producing, but growing more slowly in the the cooler and shorter days.  The woods to the south will come into play in a few more weeks, making the days too short to grow anything.  I’ve tried planting fall lettuce, but by the time the soil is cool enough to germinate seeds it’s too late.  Spinach may or may not give me a fall crop.  I planted some quick maturing spinach about two weeks ago.
The sweet peppers and hot peppers have provided slow but steady production all summer.  I especially like the Carmens, great flavor.  The red pepper in the lower left is a ripe Carmen.
It looks like most of the ancho peppers will ripen at the end of the season.  Only a few of its peppers have ripened so far but it’s loaded with green and semi-ripe peppers.  There’s a few now that have turned red and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there will be a good picking of anchos in a week or two.  I plan to dry them to use in chili flakes or powder.  I’m not sure what stage of ripeness is best for this, but it’s probably when they are red ripe.  This plant is by far the largest of the pepper plants. 
In the same bed the two tomato plants have tomatoes in various stages of ripening.  The Supersonic plant has tomatoes that should ripen over the next few weeks.  The Black Krim does not produce as much as the Supersonic, but it has held up very well for an heirloom.   If the frost holds off I should get tomatoes for another month.
This is the brassica bed with the fall planting of cole crops – 2 Starbor kale, 2 Kolibri kohlrabi, 2 Soloist chinese cabbage, 1 Tatsoi and a cauliflower plant (foreground) which has no chance of making a head before winter.  The plants were seeded on Aug 14, which is a little late but before that it was hotter than blazes.  At the end of the bed are two Jade Cross brussels sprouts which are loaded with little stem cabbages.  There’s also a cauliflower plant (upper left) that was planted May 8.  It resumed growing in the cooler weather and is now forming a head!  The Diva cucumber on the trellis is finished, but there's one more cucumber on the vine, which I plan to pick. 
The parsnip foliage looks beat up.  After taking these pics I cleaned out the dead and diseased foliage- a case where writing about something motivated me to take action.   The two red burgundy okra plants continues to produce a few okra.  Next year I want to plant okra in pots in order to free up space in the beds.  There’s two rows of carrots in the foreground.
The former potato bed now has beans.  The Roma bush beans will be picked later today. The cool weather the last few days has slowed them down a bit.  They were seeded Aug 1.  The cage of Kentucky Wonder pole beans was seeded July 25 and has a few blossoms.  It may need warmer weather to produce much. 
This bed started out as the onion bed.  It has a few rows of Dragon Langerie bush beans which were pulled up after this picture was taken.  I cultivated the ground and planted two rows of Double Choice spinach for overwintering.  I’ll wait a week and plant two more rows.  I’ve found that spinach planted too early doesn’t overwinter that well, that’s why I’m doing two staggered plantings.  There’s also some carrots and herbs in this bed. 
The butternut squash is a what's-there-to-lose experiment.  After losing the first plant to disease – the plant wilted and the leaves yellowed – I planted another one in early August.  It grew very fast and set out a number of butternuts.  Some of the smaller fruits that set have withered on the vine as the plant could not produce enough energy to support the new fruits.  But it looks like this plant will give me at least three nice butternuts which is certainly better than none at all.  It just needs some more sunny days to ripen them.
This bed was the greens bed in the spring.  It had a planting of beans in the summer.  Now it’s got some carrots and scallions and some green manure mix where the beans were. 
This spring I planted two semi-dwarf apple trees on the slope toward the pond, a Fuji and a Golden delicious.  They have shown more vigor since the hot weather ended and are growing well.  Next spring I’ll have to prune them, time to do a little research on that.
In the back of the picture is a new bed made by terracing the slope with 2x4’s.  I bought a yard of dirt/compost mix, mounded it against the back wall of the terrace and covered it with some weed fabric that was in the garage.  The compost will get a chance to mellow for a while, as it had the distinct smell of horse poop when I bought it.  I plant to plant potatoes in this bed next year.  
That’s the tour.  There’s still lots of things that can be gotten from the garden in the fall here in southern Indiana.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Sep 17

It’s a disappointing harvest this week.  The tomato plants went through another lull in production.  I think the first gap in production in early August was due to the bout of blossom end rot that affected the Supersonic plant.  The current slowdown is the after effect of the heat wave in July that stopped both plants from setting any fruit for a while.  It looks like more tomatoes will be ready later this week. 
The bean harvest was off also as the currently producing patch is finishing up.  I pulled up the two rows of Roma beans on Sunday.  I expect one more harvest of the Dragon Langerie beans before they are pulled up later in the week.  That’s OK because replacements are ready.  The next patch of beans fills the former potato bed.  The Roma bush beans are thick with beans almost ready to pick.  The Kentucky Wonder beans in the cage are blossoming now.  Beans are a vegetable that I think is nearly as good after freezing as it is fresh, and I never get tired of beans.  Yeah I’ll be freezing lots of beans in a few weeks. 

The red okra continues to produce steadily.  Last week I prepared three pints of okra/hot pepper refrigerator pickles.  They’ve got coriander, dill seed, dill weed (from the garden) and garlic in the mix.  I held out about 5 days then opened the first jar.  Hot pickled okra is a favorite of mine, and these are spicy hot and full of flavor.  I don’t think canned okra would be as good because the okra would be cooked and mushy.  At first I thought there was too much coriander, about two tablespoons per jar, but now I’m liking it.  After emptying the first jar except for the peppers I just stuffed more okra into the jar.  It ought to be good for two go rounds. 
The deep red color of the okra faded a lot in the pickling solution.

This is the only picture I took of the weeks harvest, on Friday.  That's a Black Krim tomato.   Yields this week:  Beans 31 oz, okra 4 oz, peppers 5 oz, cucumbers 10 oz and tomato 8 oz.  Also fish filets 8 oz.  Totals are in the spreadsheet under the 2012 tab.   To see the vegetables other growers get out of their backyards, see  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Solar tube

One end of the kitchen is always in the dark.  The builder should have put a second window  into the kitchen wall, but then the builder should have designed the kitchen altogether differently, so there’s no point to start griping.  I bought a Velux 10” solar tube about a month ago when it was on sale at the big box lumberyard.  Saturday was cool and cloudy -  the perfect day to install the tube.
A solar tube is simply a tube with a silvered coating inside and a weatherproof clear cap on top that transmits and reflects light into a room.  Well there’s a little more to it than that – elbows, flashing, ceiling diffuser – but you get the idea.

Let me say that this is not the kind of project an amateur should attempt.  If you don’t feel comfortable cutting a hole in your roof and removing shingles you probably shouldn’t try a project like this.  The job went smoothly but took most of the day.  There was an added level of difficulty since the tube went about three feet from the outside wall, making it impossible to access from the attic due to the low pitch of the roof.  So everything had to line up perfectly. 
The dome.

Inside, no lights on.
Does it light up the space?  Yes, it makes big difference.  It’s like having a light on throughout the day.  Right now the dome is shaded most of the day but it still lets a lot of light in.  The ceiling diffuser has two layers of clear plastic with a dead air space between.  That should provide ample insulation.     

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Sep 10

Saturday morning we got another downpour – two inches.  Nature has gone from dirt brown to verdant green in a few weeks.  I won’t need to water from the pond any more this year.  And I’m thankful for that.  Watering during the drought was a real chore.  The watering itself was drudgery enough, about a solid hour and then some to water the vegetable beds, flower beds and dying grass.  Before watering I had to set up the pump and intake line on the banks of the pond, actually below the riprap line to reach the water, run 150 feet of hose and prime the pump.  In the heart of the drought I was watering four or five times a week.  Don’t miss it a bit. 

The mushrooms have exploded after the rains.  It’s a ‘shroom bloom.  I don’t know what kind they are.  There’s only one fall mushroom that I can positively identify and will eat – the shaggy mane.  When picked fresh before the caps open at the bottom I think shaggy manes are as good as morels. 

This was a slow week for harvests.  I got the usual suspects.  The only new addition is some Dragon Langerie beans.  Beans are the heavy producers right now, with the Roma beans doing the heavy lifting.  The Roma II’s can really produce.  The tomatoes have been slow this week and the end may be in sight for the summer squash and cucumbers.   In about a week the next patch of beans will mature and it’ll be a bean deluge.   

This week:  Okra 14 oz, snap beans 3 lb 1 oz, tomatoes 11 oz, peppers 11 oz, cucumbers 1 lb 10 oz.  Fish filets 10 oz.  Total vegetables for the week:  6.9 lbs.  For the year 136 lbs. 

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the ancho pepper plant will mature its peppers before the first frost.  This plant is the 800 pound gorilla of the pepper patch and is like a small tree.  The branches are loaded with peppers and had to be staked to support them.  If they ripen I’ll dehydrate them for chili fixins’.    

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The second time around

There’s a mindset common among even some veteran growers that the garden is mostly planted in the spring only.  It’s a mindset that I started with four years ago and have been discarding ever since.  It didn’t take me long to find that succession planting, particularly with cabbage crops, was a useful method to keep a steady flow of fresh vegetables coming in at a rate that I can use.
The hot weather this summer has given me the opportunity to rethink some old habits and push the envelope so to speak.  For starters I'll talk about the summer squash I grew this year, Cocozelle.  The first healthy plant was from seed planted on May 1.   It produced just under five pounds of squash in June and early July before heat then disease killed it.  I seeded another Cocozelle about a foot away on July 1.  Once I pulled up the older plant the new one really took off.  This plant started making squash in mid August and has giving me just over six pounds so far.  Last week it started to wilt, then recovered. 

This plant may or may not produce more squash.  Does it make sense to just succession plant summer squash about once a month?  Most squash will go from seed to table in less time than a snap bean.  Given their susceptibility to the borer, wilt, rust, powdery mildew, etc etc I think it probably makes sense to look at summer squash as a succession crop, just one that takes up a lot of space.
Beans are another example.  I plant patches of beans about three weeks apart where spaces in the beds open up.  After digging up the last of the potatoes that bed got the last seeding of snap beans for the season.  I gave up on pole beans a few years ago because they attracted hordes of Japanese beetles.  This year I’ve seen a few of these beetles but not many.  I wondered if it was too late to plant some Kentucky Wonder (65 days).  Why not?  The worst outcome is that I won’t get any beans in the fall.
I found a packet of Kentucky Wonder at the local lumberyard, at a deep discount no less.  One of the potato cages was repurposed as a bean tower with the cage suspended on two fence posts about a foot off the ground.  The beans were seeded on Aug 3.  They are now at the top of the cage and should start flowering any day now.  The rest of the bed is planted with Roma II and Provider.  Often we don’t get the first frost here until November, and I think there’s a good chance I’ll get some batches of Kentucky Wonder, which in my opinion is better than any bush bean. 

The last experiment might lead you to think I’m crazy.  I lost the spring-seeded winter squash to disease after five days of 100 degree heat.  The butternut was finally pulled up on July 31 and I planted some fall green manure mix where the squash had been.  A few days later I sowed some butternut seeds in the corner of the bed.  It’s been growing quickly and now has set five small butternuts.  If the plant stays healthy then, yes, I believe I’ll get some butternuts from this plant.  From past experience any fruit set before mid-September should have time to ripen. We’ll see.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Monday Sep 3

First of all, a big thank you to Isaac.  You brought a good long soaking rain, three inches worth, on Sunday.  That helps a lot in getting things back to normal.  The pond even came up about half a foot.  Anything helps. 
Secondly a big thanks to all the people who put in a hard days work every working day, and often don’t get paid enough to make a decent living.  And for the slick con artists who design their elaborate gimmicky swindles inside their vaunted houses of finance, contribute absolutely zero to a functioning society and screwing over those who do, well I hope you get what you truly deserve.  Seems like one of your number is actually running for president this year.  
Another good week with a selection of summer fare.  I pulled up the two rows of Provider beans that were looking worse for the wear, then pulled off any beans worth keeping.  That’s the easiest way to harvest bush beans but it has a certain finality.  The Diva cucumber continues to produce and there’s even a Picolino in this picking, as well as a Black Krim tomato.  The lone Diva plant has produced almost 20 lbs of cucumbers so far this year.
The Roma beans are really coming on now and I’ll have to freeze some after another picking.  This is my favorite bean. 

The two Red Burgundy okra plants are really producing well now.  I’ve got to make some refrigerator pickled okra, maybe mixed with hot peppers, soon.  The more recent Diva cucumbers are looking a bit rough.  The plant is fighting some kind of disease and the fruit shows it.  After peeling the skins they taste fine although some look bad enough to get relegated to the compost bin. 

The tomatoes have been producing slowly but steadily.  With the heat wave it’s been a down year for tomatoes – only 12 lbs so far this year from two plants.  Last year I had picked over 31 lbs by the end of August.  Then again last year I picked one cucumber before losing the plants to bacterial wilt so I guess that evens things out.

For the week:  Cucumber 4 lb 5 oz, okra 14 oz, snap beans 2 lb 12 oz, summer squash 1 lb, tomatoes 2 lb 15 oz; total 10.5 lb.  For the year 128.8 lb.  Update spreadsheet is in the 2012 tab.

I made salsa this weekend and forgot to post it.  So it’s been posted today, just below (before) this post.  Cheers!     

Mike's Salsa

All the necessary ingredients for salsa were available in sufficient quantity – sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, parsley, oregano, and onion.  Salsa is not complicated, just fresh ingredients to your personal taste.  It is a bit of work and the hot peppers have to be handled with care.  I grill the sweet peppers and remove the skins then blend the pepper meat into the tomatoes.  The salsa has a fresh snap with a smoky flavor. 

This time I wanted to make a salsa with ingredient proportions that give it the necessary acidity for canning.  Only I wasn’t going to can this salsa, just make it fresh and see how I like it.  I found a recipe for canned salsa  and modified it, keeping the ratio of tomato/acid juice/ nonacid foods the same. 

The tomatoes are Supersonics from the garden.   They are moderately acidic, medium sized and not overly juicy so they worked well.  I grilled ripe sweet peppers (Carmen) over charcoal, put them in a sealed container to steam, and removed the skin and seeds. The red pepper meat blends right in with the tomato base.   I also like onions in the salsa but not the pungency, so I chop them fine and saute the onions at low heat in a little olive oil until they are translucent.  If I had mild onions they would go straight into the salsa. 

The hot peppers are Hot Poppa and one Holy Mole.  They are comparable to Jalapenos in heat level.  If I had Serranos I probably would have tossed one or two into the mix as I like salsa hot.
Here’s what I used: 
2.5 pounds of tomatoes, deskinned. 
8 ounces ripe sweet pepper, grilled, deskinned and deseeded
5/ 8 cup of diced hot pepper, seeds removed
3/4 cup chopped onion, lightly sauteed
1/ 3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Sprig of Greek oregano, leaves finely chopped
1/ 4 cup of lemon juice (For canning you need 1/ 2 cup)
Salt to taste
It’s about a 4 to 1 ratio of tomatoes to peppers by weight.  The recipe called for vinegar to give the salsa the necessary acidity but I prefer lemon juice.  In the you-learn-something-new every day department I learned that lemon juice is more acidic than vinegar, therefore you can substitute lemon juice for vinegar but not vice versa.  I should point out that after working with 100% acetic acid in the lab when I was a bench chemist I now find vinegar not so appealing.  5% is one thing but the straight stuff is a different ballgame.  So I opt for lemon juice.
Anyway it all went into a blender and was pulsed until the consistency was good, then put in a bowl so the flavors could meld.  Taste?  Good on a tortilla chip and the heat is just right to my taste.  More lemon juice to make it safe for canning will not hurt the flavor.  I just had part of a lemon on hand so a fourth of a cup is all it got.  I like parsley over cilantro but either gives it a fresh taste.  It would be better if I had grilled the mole pepper and removed it’s skin as the skin is kind of tough.  Really you can substitute freely as long as you don’t mess with the ratios of tomatoes/lemon juice/ nonacid foods.
If the tomatoes and peppers produce enough to double this batch I’ll can some salsa.  That’s a big if.