Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spring's End?

I brought in the last of the Bronze Arrow lettuce yesterday.

There is still the Slobolt lettuce, but I'm not sure that counts as a spring crop. I've brought in the beets, and the Sugar Snap peas seem to be slowing down in the heat, so I'd say that the spring crops are just about done.

Considering that the daytime high temperatures have gone back into the lower nineties, the persistence of my spring crops has been a little surprising.

Until the traditional summer crops kick in, I am left with chard as a green vegetable from the yard to go with that Slobolt. The good news is that the beans and cucumbers are making good time. In a week or so, they will be ready to add to our meals.

In addition, the onion tops have mostly keeled over, so those have been pulled and left to dry for a day or two on the front porch. The potatoes will be ready to dig soon, too. The domino-like progress of food from the yard into the kitchen, the same almost every year as the seasons progress, is always great to see!

In order to make space in the freezer for any superabundance (I can always hope . . .) we cleaned out the little chest freezer. I usually keep extra flour and cornmeal in there to avoid bug-problems (I tend to buy a LOT when it's on sale), but we moved that into a bucket with one of those "gamma seal" lids (supposed to be bug-proof -- we'll find out!). It turns out that there is a Survival Store surprisingly nearby that sells the lids. If this really works, I might get another one for the rice (usually purchased in 10-20 pound bags, so I don't have to remember to buy more as often).

While working our way to the bottom of the freezer, we did get one pretty big surprise. We still had two gallons of blueberries in there! I had forgotten how productive those bushes were last year. To move those berries along -- one step closer to our stomachs -- I turned most of them into "fruit roll-ups." We already had the dehydrator moved back into the kitchen for the summer, to dry the dill, and making the puree was a snap. We now have 48 pretty large blueberry roll-ups (a.k.a. fruit leather) individually wrapped in wax paper and ready for lunch boxes. I think I'm officially ready for summer!

Since Memorial Day is tomorrow, I'd say my timing isn't too bad.

My Mom (in Oklahoma) usually spends one day during this weekend taking flowers to the graves of family members. I'm betting she's not the only one. Hope it's a beautiful day for everyone, and not too sad.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beans of Tomorrow

My bush beans (this year's variety is Provider) are making flower buds. Of course, just like when I look at those pictures of clean-cut, smiling kids captioned "Tomorrow's leaders," I know better than to expect every last one of the buds to make a bean, especially if the high temperatures of the last week continue. The flower buds are, however, a hopeful sign of beans-to-come.

A label of "Tomorrow's beets" would be mostly right, because I'm expecting my little family to eat golden beets from the garden this weekend.

We might eat a little dill, but mostly we have been running it through the dehydrator (at the lowest setting) to save for when the pickling cukes are ready to harvest. Since they aren't yet opening any flowers, it could be awhile.

Joe is having trouble waiting for the garden to provide his cukes, so he has bought some picklers at the store and started a batch of brined pickles, using our fresh dill.

The Sugar Snap peas have been cranking out the peas for a while now. Most of these are going into a stir-fry tonight. They've been great in salads and as snacks-while-walking-around-the-yard.

We still have a couple of heads of Bronze Arrow lettuce out in the garden, but I will be bringing these in to the house tomorrow morning. So far, they have held up very well in the heat, but I don't want to push my luck. Also, I need that space for the sweet potatoes.

Maybe this weekend I will get the rest of the summer planting done. We are about to have some rain (after several dry weeks), which will be welcome.

The weather has been crazy this year, and we have been lucky that our family members in Oklahoma and Missouri have been missed by the worst of the storms (even the niece in Joplin). I hope everyone else out there in electron-land is safe and well!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Vagaries of Spring

We have had some pretty hilarious weather here. Already there has been a week in which the high temperature most days was around 90 degrees F, and that was followed by a week in which the high temperature most days was around 60 degrees F. We should be heading back into more usual territory this weekend, but the extremes have been hard on some plants.

I would blame the weather for my tiny pepper plants, but their size is my own fault. If I had started them sooner, they would be more visible in this arc of garden near the front steps. Can you see them? There are fifteen, representing several varieties, though not all are visible in this particular photo.

The big plant to the right, on the outside of the curve, is a red-flowered bee balm that seems fairly resistant to the mildew that attacks most of these plants. I think the variety is Jacob Kline.

In my own yard, the weird weather has mostly served just to slow things down. In the garden of a friend, though, the weather has been a little harder on the plants. The leaves of his earliest-planted tomato plants have a purplish cast. We finally figured out that this is probably due to the reduced uptake of phosphorus that resulted from having been planted in cold soil. In addition, his peppers are looking a little pale, and we think that is cold-related, too.

However, all the plants of my friend who gardens in containers look great! Her tomato plants have little green fruits on them, and all is proceeding as it should.

Elsewhere around my yard, blueberries are looking abundant (though still green), the other berries are flowering and making little green fruits, and my persimmon trees, both the Ichi Ki Ke Jiro and the unknown variety that a friend grafted for me are also making little fruits.

The neighborhood kids (aka "Little Rascals") have figured out where the fruit is, so I expect to have some competition for the berries from these canes. The good news is that there seem to be more canes and more flowers than last year, and if we are lucky there will be plenty to share.

This is the first year of fruiting for the grafted persimmon tree, and I do not know whether any of those fruits will mature (or, if they do, if I can beat the squirrels to them). I'm looking forward to finding out!

Friday, May 13, 2011

What's for Lunch?

These are the salad days at our house.

We brought in all the Capitan and Tiny Tim lettuces, and most of the Marvel of Four Seasons (packed into bags in the fridge). The first two don't hold up well in the heat, and I am hoping to find out how well Marvel holds up. I'll be nibbling on the remaining Marvel plant on and off to find out when it turns bitter. Still in the yard are the oak-leaf lettuces (this year those are all Bronze Arrow), which should be fine for a couple more weeks, and the SloBolt, which should be fine into June.

We still have some radishes left in the garden, and the peas, both English and Sugar Snap, have just recently begun making additions to our meals.

Also making regular appearances are the many herbs, both the ones we planted on purpose and the ones that have re-seeded into the yard. There's a lot of dill that I will be thinning soon, and bringing the thinnings in to dry for later use. Last year's parsley is starting to make flowers, but the leaves are still just fine to use. We even still have a little cilantro! All the plants in the sunnier spots went to seed a while back, but the plants in shadier locations still have plenty of usable leaves.

For someone who cooks, herbs are a great choice of plants to grow, because getting them at the store in those little plastic packets costs a small fortune. Today, our lunchtime salad is a pesto-potato salad (on a bed of lettuce) (it has peas in it), for which buying basil leaves would have made me pretty unhappy. I will admit that making the pesto last summer wasn't exactly my favorite activity, but we have been using the frozen cubes of pesto all winter long, and we still have a few more cubes in the freezer.

The Hanover Salad Kale has bolted, along with most of the other earlier greens. That hasn't stopped me from taking more leaves off the spinach plants; they are just a bit tougher than earlier in the spring. Those plants are all coming out soon, though.

In another week or two, the newest Perpetual Spinach Chard will be big enough to add to meals, too. The carrots will be ready at about that same time, and so will the beets.

It is great to have food from the garden on my plate!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Temps in the 90s

As so often happens in the middle of May, afternoon temperatures are reaching into the low nineties. That means it's time for my little family to eat a lot of salad. Most lettuces left in the garden for many days at such high temperatures will turn bitter, and they will bolt to flower and seed.

For people planning to save lettuce seeds from their own plants for next year, that is kind of a mixed blessing.

The Slobolt lettuce should be good for several more weeks. One of my plans for this spring was to compare Slobolt with Jericho as the heat wore on into early summer. I started them at the same time, in exactly the same way, but the Jericho seeds didn't germinate. There is always next year . . .

Other spring crops just reaching their stride include the peas -- both kinds. I have some of the regular English peas in the pasta salad that I've packed for today's lunch, and the Sugar snap peas are just a little bit behind in maturity. These are beginning to get sweet, but as they get more plump, they will also get more sugary.

This is one of the four squash plants that came up. I had hoped for five, so I will probably plant another seed soon. One would think that by now I would have all the summer crops planted, and if all had gone as scheduled, almost all except the sweet potatoes would be in, but I always plan to have more energy and time that reality provides.

As it stands, I have planted the peppers, but not the eggplants. The okra and sunflowers are waiting for the space currently inhabited by carrots, beets, and some spring greens. The melons are waiting for me to get busy and finish preparing their bed. The winter squash and popcorn need to go in, too, along with some flowers and herbs.

Soon though, soon the summer garden will be in, and I will have the same lazy life as our little cat Louisiana (not really, but I can dream - right?). Here he is in one of his several favorite napping spots:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tools Inventory: Grub Hoe

My husband is pretty good about giving me new garden tools for all the major gift-giving days, and for my birthday I have a new grub hoe!

I've been talking about this particular tool for a while now, so it wasn't a huge surprise when I got a very long gift (I didn't stop to count the candles drawn on the box to make sure all 51 were there, but I have been assured that they are).

This is the 4" model for smaller gardens, and it works amazingly well. It isn't for chopping weeds; it's for digging. I tried it out first (notice that I'm not really dressed for gardening in the photo) in the bed that will soon hold eggplants. It turned the soil up like a charm!

When I got serious enough to put on some sturdier shoes, I was able to prepare the bed for peppers in less than half an hour. Working with a shovel or spading fork, it would probably have taken closer to two hours to get that done.

A lot of gardeners, I know, would get this all done even faster with a power tool, but some of my planting beds are small enough (and some are curved) that a power tool isn't any easier in the long-run than a hand-tool, especially when considering maintenance and fuel costs. The grub hoe, and most of my other tools, just need to be filed to keep them sharp and an occasional rub along the handles with linseed oil to keep the wood in good shape.

The funniest thing about the hoe is that it used muscles I didn't even know existed, and I use all hand tools. You'd think I'd have found all those muscles in my upper back by now!

We are having lovely, warm weather, and it has been nice to sit outside and enjoy the day, even though I've also had to do some work for my actual job. I hope everyone has had a great Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Groups and Gardening

This afternoon, I talked with a lot of people at the Kastner-Hankerson garden as part of the 2011 Master Gardener tour of gardens in my county (an event titled “Through the garden gate”). I had signed on as a docent. The “garden” is the little farm at which my family has been helping out for the past few Saturdays in anticipation of this day (on which more than 400 people showed up to see the garden!).

One of the great things about helping out in advance is that I learned enough about the garden to be able to talk about it with people who come out to see it. Another great thing is that I have learned a lot about “gardening” on a much larger scale. A third great thing is that I have met even more people who are interested in growing good food and in sharing that food. What a great gift this has been!

This project is a perfect example of what I was hoping to find when I joined the Master Gardener program. Even though I already had been gardening for a long time and had a degree in Botany, my time in the classes was time well spent. I learned a lot, for example, about ornamental plants. Those are not my main focus –I’m about food and native plants – but plenty of people in the program are there because they have found a particular plant, or group of plants, to be beautiful, and they wanted to both know more and to share what they have learned.

For me, as for most people, the classes were only the beginning. What is learned after completing those classes, while working as a volunteer, is even more valuable.

The Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden (PAR) that is my main project (and for which I am a co-chair) tends to present a whole different set of problems than my own garden, so I learn from it as I learn from my own yard. When people come to me with garden problems, sometimes the answer comes out of my experience at PAR.

I also get to give talks on growing veggies, and being in a roomful of people who ALL are interested in growing food is almost too wonderful for words.

The other day, my friend whose veggie garden is all in containers on her driveway said that she has always wanted to join the Master Gardener program, but never thought she could. In general, the Master Gardener program is looking for people who can make it to all the classes and are available to volunteer for its various projects. She has a full time job and some health problems that she has thought would probably interfere with those goals.

Recently, though, she looked into the program again, and now she is thinking about applying for next year’s classes.

When I took the classes, they were WAY on the other side of Atlanta, and only a couple dozen people were accepted from each of the participating counties. The classes met two days each week, and sometimes it seemed as though we spent more time on the road than in class. Since then, our county has joined with a different group of counties for the classes, and they are much more nearby and have space for more participants. In addition, they are only one day each week, and most of the notes for each class are now posted online.

My friend’s job is fairly flexible in terms of scheduling, so the one-day-a-week class would not be a problem. She also figured out that volunteering includes activities like writing, giving presentations, and answering the phone (the “horticulture hotline” at the extension office). Those activities are well within the realm of her capabilities.

The Master Gardeners here in my county are a great group. We get a lot done even though many of us are "older." We all have family disasters and bad health years, and we adjust. We tend to make up for random infirmity through numbers --plenty of other gardeners taking up the slack. That is part of the beauty of working with a group!

My container-gardening friend said, in that same conversation, that when she is gardening, she never is thinking that she should be doing something else; her thoughts are all about her garden, and she is content and happy. That’s pretty much how I feel about gardening, and we are not the only two people who share that experience. A bunch of other people who feel the same way are in the Master Gardener program.

(I had hoped to post a picture or two from the Kastner-Hankerson garden, but Joe got his new Sighting Compass in the mail yesterday, and he took his new compass and the camera with him on a hike at a state park in North Georgia this morning.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Little Bits of Progress

Radishes help get a gardener through the long wait to the summer crops. They are so pretty, and a few go a long way. Of course, I have kind of a lot of these coming along in the garden still. It's a good thing Joe really likes radishes.

Around the garden, seeds are coming up -- and not just the weed seeds! The zuchinni (below) are looking very promising. The slicing cucumbers are a little further along, and the picklers a little behind. The bush beans are coming up, but the first set of pole beans have yet to poke their heads above ground. If I had planted everything at the same time, I would be worried, but I have planted little bits at a time, after work, on the weekends . . .

And pretty soon, if all goes well, we will have sugar snap peas. These are on the same trellis that the slicing cucumbers will eventually take over. Nearby, a lot of little Malabar spinach seedlings are coming up. I have been very surprised to see them. I hadn't thought that such a tropical plant would make it through the winter here, even as seeds.

In other good news, the potatoes (Red Pontiac) are beginning to flower. That usually indicates that little spuds are beginning to form underground.

I am behind on posting about the garden (I've had a cold for more than a week now), so these pictures are from last week. Today after work I planted eight tomato plants: two Olivette Jaune, two Cherokee purple, two Wuhib, and two Rutgers.

After I planted them, I put cages around them even though they are way too small to need cages. The dogs tend to run through that bed rather than around it, and I am hoping the cages will keep the plants from getting trampled. I also am hoping that, on Wednesday, I will be able to get the peppers and eggplants in the ground. Wish me luck!
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