Monday, May 31, 2010

Still Planting After All These Weeks

On Saturday I planted the sweet potato slips. Last week I planted the okra and popcorn that had been started in Jiffy pellets. I still have a couple of tomato plants to put in giant pots, and I've started the tomatoes that will be planted in the space where the onions and garlic are right now.

My Mom uses the phrase "built like topsy" to describe things like the ongoing and seemingly haphazard construction of my garden, but there really is a plan, albeit a loose one, and it works, mostly. The ongoingness is a part of the year-round plan of gardening that I use.

This ongoing planting is not, however, a requirement for gardening. I know perfectly sane and successful gardeners who prepare the whole garden at once, plant it with summer crops all at once, then don't do any more planting until the next spring. These gardeners get plenty of good food from their gardens and are happy with what they do.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Late May Garden Update

One of the great things about peas, besides how they taste, is that they bridge what would be a harvest gap between the spring crops (asparagus, spring greens) and the summer. The picture below is a little blurry (I'm not good with a camera), but it shows the third full cup of shelled out peas from my little pea patch. There are a couple more cups of peas out there, which isn't a whole lot, but they make me feel as though my garden is still working for me.

I tried to turn this next photo so the onion stalks were standing up, but blogger turned the photo back sideways (mine is not to question why...). It does show, though, that the onions are starting to make bulbs. I didn't used to worry about whether the onions would make bulbs, but I've had several people tell me recently that onions don't do well here, so I've become nervous about the onions. In this case, ignorance was bliss!

Elsewhere in the yard, the blackberry canes are loaded with immature berries. This is the third year for these canes. The first year, of course, they produced no berries at all. Then the second year, last year, they made just about five berries, and I got to eat two of those. They were delicious, so I am really looking forward to what looks like a bumper crop. Birds do visit my yard, so I could end up with two berries again, but I remain hopeful.

Back in the garden, the tomato plants are making tomatoes. I am guessing that lots of gardens in the area have bigger, further-along tomatoes than these, but I am glad to have what I have!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Too Wet Garden

At the Plant a Row for the Hungry garden (PAR) this morning, we had planned to plant the sweet potatoes. The ground was pretty wet, though, like it had been last week, so we decided, after forking up the soil a bit to try to get some air into it, that we would wait yet another week (the slips have been ready to plant for three weeks now).

We looked around at other parts of the garden, and some are doing really well. The summer squashes look good, some of beans (both pole and bush) look good, too, but other beans still haven't come up, and there are holes in the lines of okra where seeds haven't seemed to germinate. The melons haven't all come up, either, and it's been long enough that it is a safe bet they aren't going to.

Even worse, the tomatoes looked miserable. They had looked almost as bad last week, but this week more are dead. We decided to dig one up to try to figure out what was wrong. We started by lifting off one tomato cage and pulling the leaf mulch back from the plant, and this is what we saw:

It turns out that most of the tomato plants were drowning. Luckily, one of our gardeners had her camera handy, and she took pictures so we could show the gardeners who hadn't been able to come to the garden (thanks Gloria!).

The PAR garden has a new irrigation system, installed on Earth Day (for free!), but it apparently is doing too good of a job. Since it is a new system, even though it is miles better than what we relied on before, it is going to take a while to get the watering schedule just right. Before we left, we readjusted it to water less often. If the garden is still wet next week, we will tweak it again.

After discovering that the tomatoes were trying to grow in a marsh, we went back and looked at all the blank spaces in the rows of plantings, where seedlings had not emerged, and it looks as though all the blank spaces are in little depressions in the garden that were wetter than surrounding areas. The seeds probably rotted in the ground.

In an effort to save the remaining tomato plants, we dug them up and I brought them home to plant in a wooden flat filled with Miracle Gro potting soil. Hopefully, they will all recover so we can replant them in a week or two.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Undercooked Lasagna

Joe is out of town with the camera, so there won’t be any pictures until he gets back. He’s taken a group of students to Belize for a Maymester course, so it seems likely that he might need the camera more than I do.

I have almost finished planting the summer vegetables. Part of the delay is just the life-in-general stuff that happens to everyone, but part of the delay is that the layered leaves and manure in the new garden beds that were created “lasagna style” aren’t as decomposed as I had hoped they would be by now.

However, I have planted in them anyway. Four tomato plants went in a few weeks ago, partly as a test and partly because they had outgrown their pots. I have to say that they looked pretty bad for a while, all pale and scrawny, but just in the last week they have greened up and are starting to grow. This seems like a positive development, so this weekend I set out more little plants in those two beds.

There were another dozen or so pepper plants in little pots that are now planted in the decaying leaves; four Sugar Nut melons are there, as are three Straight Nine cucumbers, three Malabar spinach, some flowers (China asters, nasturtiums, an extra sweet basil), and some bean seeds (Alabama black half runners).

After looking at the remaining space with the eye of someone who likes to have a LOT of plants in the garden, I have started some Dakota black popcorn, Cajun jewel okra, and Schoon’s Hardshell melons in little pots to go in, too. It will all fit. Really.

Elsewhere in the garden, I’ve cut the rest of the spring lettuce and crammed it into the fridge before it can bolt and turn bitter. The boy and I are eating salad twice a day, every day, until it is gone (or until Joe gets home to help eat it, whichever comes first). The peas are getting plump, so tonight’s salad had some barely cooked, freshly picked peas on it. I have a little asparagus in the fridge for one of tomorrow’s salads, but I will have to stop cutting the asparagus soon. Maybe now. In another week, there should be little beets.

One of the Chinese tomato plants has tiny green tomatoes on it. Most of the other tomato plants are flowering. One plant, the Olivette Jeaune, looked decidedly puny until just a few days ago. It is only slightly larger than when it was planted, but it has greened back up and looks healthier. It had been a sad shade of yellow. I hadn’t thought before that it was even possible for the color yellow to look sad, but there it was.

The zucchini are beginning to flower, but the first flowers to open have been female, which seems odd to me. Usually, the first flowers are male. These first flowers won’t make mature zucchinis for the kitchen because they haven’t been pollinated, but I am sure that I can figure out some way to add them to a salad.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Season for Spinach Pie

When I harvest food from my yard, I want to be able to use as much of it as possible in our meals while it is fresh and wonderful. Some crops are overplanted on purpose so we have enough for preserving, too, but I prefer to keep growing food all year, eating what’s in season, rather than spending too much time with my pressure canner on a hot summer day.

Using my yard’s produce when it is in season requires that I have good recipes that don’t depend on a lot of mixing and matching from across the seasons. Since out-of-season foods are now brought from around the world to even ordinary grocery stores, many modern cookbooks are written with the assumption that all ingredients are available at all times. These books don’t really suit my needs.

There have been some seasonal cookbooks published recently for people like me (one good one is Simply in Season, published by the Mennonite Central Committee), but those are not our only choices. Besides just surfing the net, two other great places to look are in older cookbooks and in international cookbooks that focus on traditional recipes and foods of a particular country or region.

About a month ago, I found a cookbook at the public library called The Food and Wine of Greece, by Diane Kochilis, that has a great recipe for spinach pie (spanakopitta). The book was published in 1990, but it contains a high percentage of family recipes that have been handed down, so the ingredients in any particular recipe tend to be in season at the same time.

Even better, it turns out that gardens and farms in Greece can grow a lot of the same crops as the Southern U.S. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that, but the book contains recipes for both okra and black-eyed peas, foods that I think of as Southern.

The recipe for spinach pie in Kochilis’ book was easy to follow and not too complicated, even though there was dough for a crust that had to be rolled out. However, the first time I made it, I had to buy most of the ingredients, which made the pie a pretty expensive meal.

On Mother’s Day I made it again (with help from a handsome assistant) using spinach, parsley, scallions, dill, and an immature red onion that stood in for the leek, all from the garden. The only special shopping that needed to be done was for feta cheese. This is the right season for Greek spinach pie.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cool Spring Weather

This morning, I had my Mother's Day breakfast out on the back deck, as usual, but the weather is not at all usual. We all were wearing sweaters and long pants because it was 48 degrees F. I am pretty sure this is the coldest Mother's Day morning I've experienced.

The good news is that the spring veggies love the cool weather. The lettuces will stand longer in the garden before turning bitter, the spinach won't bolt as soon, the radishes will continue to be be crisp and to have just the right amount of heat, the beets will continue to grow without turning woody and weird, and the peas will continue to flower and set pods.

This is a head of the Capitan lettuce (a lot like Buttercrunch, I think) that we had with supper a couple of days ago. The big loose head made a huge salad, and it was delicious.

These are some of the French Breakfast radishes that we've been eating. They are getting a bit large, so the rest will come out in a day or two. Joe thinks I should have planted more, so next year I probably will.

Later today I will go buy flowers to plant in pots on the front porch. I will make everyone go with me. Actually, the boy who still lives at home doesn't mind going to garden stores; for the one who is living in Colorado, going to garden stores is a huge pain.

I'm looking forward to a great day working in the yard. Hope everyone else has a happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Oklahoma Garden

I've been in Oklahoma visiting family there, and I was reminded once again how tidy a garden can be. My stepdad (Grandpa Bill) is the primary vegetable grower, and he has decades of experience gardening in Oklahoma. He also has been battling gophers for a few years, but it looks as though the human might win this round.

On the right in the first picture are plants growing in barrels. Gardening in big barrels was actually begun so my mom, who is disabled, can still do a little work in the garden. This turned out to be a great way to thwart the gophers, so just about everything else is in pots now, too. Most of the other pots are sunk into the ground, though.

This next picture is a closer view of the back of the garden. The double-protection around the plant isn't all for gophers. The big pot is for gopher-control, but the coffee can protects the tender seedling from the crazy Oklahoma wind. All the transplants have the wind shields. The first couple of days I was there, the wind was blowing at least forty mph. I would walk outside and my hair would blow out absolutely sideways, and my hair isn't short. It was hilarious.

The shrub at the very back is a bush sour cherry that I grew from seeds, ordered from Bountiful Gardens. The seed packet contained five seeds; four germinated and grew; and I gave two plants to my mom. Mine both died, but hers look great. See the little green cherries all down the stem?

One crop in the barrels is strawberries. When they are up off the ground like this, they are easier for Mom to harvest. She loves strawberries.

This is a closeup of one pepper plant in its own protected space. We are hoping (and Grandpa Bill is especially hoping) that the sunk pots actually will keep the gophers out. If this works, he can give all his scary looking traps and gopher-destroying items (that don't seem to do their intended job) to some other poor gardener.

Totally off topic: One morning Mom and I went to visit the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague. A billboard for the shrine is on I40. I have seen that billboard many times when I have driven from Georgia to see Mom and Grandpa Bill, and I wanted to go see the shrine. We aren't Catholic, but the shrine was in a beautiful church (The Parish Church of St. Wenceslaus) that had a lovely and peaceful meditation/prayer garden. We thought the shrine was well-worth the drive, but Bill, a retired minister, thought we were nuts.

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