Sunday, December 21, 2014

Things I May Try in 2015


I have been thinking of some things I may want to do differently in the garden in 2015. I use the word “may” because I reserve the right to bail out on any or all of this. This is not my New Year’s resolution list.


Purchase Onion Plants

The last three years I have been growing storage onions  in my garden. I use seedlings because the results are much better than sets. After all, alliums are biennial and there is a risk with sets that the plants will bolt, plus you are severely limited in your choice of onion varieties. Starting onions from seeds is really not hard. They take a while to germinate and here you have to start them in February, but they do well in cool conditions (the definition of conditions in my house in February with $4 heating oil). But I did manage to do a bad job last year. Trying to plant black seed in black potting mix is difficult, so I just sprinkled the whole packet in a 4” pot. The seedlings were crowded and too difficult to thin, resulting in weak transplants, many of which died from transplant shock.


This year, I am going to try using purchased onion transplants, at least for the yellow and red storage onions. I will still have to start seed for the shallots and specialty onions This is an expensive  proposition, about twice as expensive as purchasing seeds and starting you own. What I am hoping to achieve is a much higher (more and bigger bulbs) and more reliable yield from the same garden space because I will be planting robust and healthy transplants grown by professionals. A lot of seed vendors sell onion plants and most seem to be grown and shipped  by suppliers in Texas (Dixondale Farms being one of the most prominent). And most of those seed vendors get about $15-16 for a bunch of 50-70 plants. Fortunately, Pinetree Seeds in Maine sells two bunches for $15.49 and you can mix and match. So, one bunch of Copra and one of Red Zeppelin for me. One of the many reasons I really like Pinetree.


Total War on Cucumber (and Flea) Beetles

OK, I have had it. This year, once again, my cucumbers were decimated by bacterial wilt spread by cucumber beetles. These pests feed on the leaves of cucumbers and their larvae feed on the roots. The leaf damage is not that bad, and cucumber plants can usually recover. What is worse is the beetles carry bacterial wilt disease in their guts and spread it to the plants. Once infected, the plant wilts and dies in just a couple of days. The little buggers are small and fast, and they like to hang out inside the flowers, so they are difficult to hand pick.


So in 2015 I am going to try using Surround for the cucumbers and eggplant, spread DT on the soil around the plants, and spray weekly with an organic spray like pyrethrin or Spinosad (I usually alternate these). Surround is an interesting material and it will be a challenge to use it. Surround is a finely ground kaolin clay produced in a magnetic centrifuge in Georgia by one company. It’s a patented process using fancy and expensive equipment, so the product is fairly pricey. Both Johnny’s and Fedco carry it, but Fedco is about $5 cheaper for a 25 pound bag. Shipping is another matter so I may try to find a local source.


The way Surround is used is a slurry is made with water and the plants are either dipped in it before transplanting, or you use a sprayer to apply it. I will probably try dipping the transplants and then use a sprayer to cover new foliage and touch up spots that are washed off. The film left by the clay apparently doesn’t affect the plant and transmits light. There are various theories on how it works, such as the beetles don’t see the plants, they don’t like the feel of it, they spend their time cleaning their little feet rather than feeding, but it apparently does work and is used by commercial growers. An option is to mix a pyrethrin with the clay slurry when applying, but there is no evidence that improves effectiveness.


Row cover for Brassicas and Eggplant

Obviously, row cover for brassicas, eggplant and squash makes a lot of sense, given  the plethora of pests they face. I have used squares of the stuff in my square foot garden, supported by arches of plastic tubing. Last year I had access to one of the unused plots in our community garden and reverted back to traditional, in-ground row gardening. I may have that privilege again and want to try planting brassicas and eggplant in-ground, so a row covering makes sense.


I ran across an article on the Grow Abundant Gardens blog with a nifty way to implement a floating row cover. Turns out Johnny’s sells a 10 foot wide Agribon AG-19 in rolls. This is wide enough that if you use, say, 10 foot sections of 1/2 inch plastic conduit as supports, you can create a tunnel high enough to grow broccoli, Brussels sprouts, eggplant and summer bush squash under it. The row cover helps with cool Spring weather for the eggplant and squash and repels the nasties for anything you plant under it. I’m going to give this a try.


Grow Peas on a Trellis

I am getting tired of the results achieved from my patented technique for growing snow and snap peas in a block. I have tried to select varieties that are short vined, such as Oregon Sugar Pod II. I plant them in a block surrounded by a low fence and hope they support each other as they grow. Good theory, but in practice they usually grow taller than the catalog claims and flop over. I get a big mess and it is hard to find the peas to harvest them


So next year I am going to try growing them on a trellis. In fact, they are going to get the 8 foot trellis I grew the Musica beans on. I think I will select a tall variety like Green Beauty from Fedco, which is supposed to grow to 8 foot and produce heavily. Instead of an occasional handful for a stir fry, I envision bags and bags of snow peas in the freezer next summer.



This is a topic somewhat new to me and big enough that I may save it for another post. Obviously, if we are eating our own garden produce, we want food that is “nutrient dense” and healthful. That’s why we garden. A key to producing nutrient dense food is having garden soil that has the right mix of macro and micro nutrients. According to Mel Bartholomew, all you need is a trowel full of “perfect” compost per square to produce healthful food. Of course, no one can define what “perfect” compost is and even Mel himself has admitted that sometimes supplements help. For example, he acknowledges that broccoli and beets are boron dependent and supplying a boron boost can increase productivity and eliminate hollow stems. I will write more later but mineralization will get increased attention from me in 2015.


Tomato choices

As I have said, I had access to an extra plot in the community garden and planted a double row of tomatoes. I am more careful what I plant in my square foot garden because of its limited space. So I took advantage of the additional space and planted some heirlooms. I planted four Brandywine, four Pineapple, and a Cherokee Purple, all heirlooms. At first, results were great and I got a heavy set of fruit, but they took their good old time ripening. Unfortunately, by late summer, most of the fruit cracked and anthracnose rot infected the cracks before the fruits ripened. I lost a large amount of fruit because of that. So next year I will put a bigger emphasis on selecting full size tomatoes that are more crack resistant. It doesn’t matter what the flavor is if the fruit rots before you can eat it.




Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkey

The last few weeks have been pretty hectic for me. The garden is mostly crispy critters so there have been no harvests to report, unless you want me to report my failure to completely finish tidying it up before cold weather. I figure that’s what early spring days are for. Also, my daughter travelled home for American Thanksgiving, but a week early. Since Dad is supposed to pick up the airfare, a week early meant tickets half the price of Thanksgiving week, so fine with with me. And since Kate has to approve the menu, I was happy when she approved trying to smoke a turkey in my new smoker.


I got the idea from Meathead Goldwyn’s website, Amazing Ribs. I have always liked smoked turkey. We used to order a corn cob and maple smoked ham and smoked turkey breast from Harrington’s in Vermont every year. The difference in this case was the turkey would be fresh and not cured. The idea of smoking the turkey was attractive, since it would free up the oven for other things.




I purchased a 16 pound fresh turkey and prepped it Meathead’s way by removing skin flaps top and bottom and the tail and wing tips. In the cavity I placed the peel of an orange, some garlic cloves, half an onion, celery leaves, and some fresh sage leaves. The turkey is not trussed so you get good air flow around and through the entire bird. It was not brined but was sprinkled with kosher salt before putting it in the smoker.




The  giblets (minus the liver), the skin, tail, wing tips and excess fat were placed in a disposable aluminum pan that functions as the drip pan and water bath for the smoker. I also added an onion, a carrot, a celery stalk with leaves, fresh sage and thyme to the pan, then poured in a quart carton of turkey stock.





The turkey was placed in the center of the smoker with the drip pan below it. The drip pan keeps the turkey moist, regulates the temperature, and catches the turkey drippings. It also becomes the base for the gravy when the turkey is finished, so that frees up a burner on the stove usually devoted to making stock for the gravy.




The turkey is smoked at 325 °F for 3-3.5 hours, about the same as an oven, so this is a hot smoke. Turkey doesn’t have all the collagen of pork or beef so there is no need to go “low and slow” to break down the collagen. I went light on the smoke with just a small handful of apple wood chips used at the beginning of the smoke. Temperatures were monitored with a Maverick remote  temperature probe, one in the breast of the turkey set for a 165 °F alarm, and one clipped to the rack under the turkey to monitor smoker temperature.


The day was cool, about 40 °F, but very blustery. The temperature was not a problem but the wind made it very challenging. I had the propane control on high the whole time. The smoker is dual fuel and I had fortunately added a generous amount of lump charcoal to the charcoal tray. Even with the two heat sources, I had wild fluctuations in the smoker temperature with wind gusts, up and down 20-30 degrees at a time. The alarms from the Maverick were driving me crazy at times.




So with things hellsapoppin inside preparing all the sides, when it came time to bring the turkey inside, I forgot I was supposed to photograph the event. Here’s the turkey after I already carve one side of it. It was a beautiful color and the aroma was fantastic. The light apple wood smoke was perfect and not too strong. The skin was crispy and the meat was still very moist. Everyone really enjoyed it and I may do it again next year.




The drip pan was drained into a saucepan to turn the juices into gravy and the disposable pan was just tossed in the trash (actually it was cleaned and tossed into the recycle bin). It made a terrific gravy. This was a great way to do the turkey. The only cleanup was the rack the turkey sat on in the smoker. No roaster pan to wash.


Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it. While everyone was running around shopping Thanksgiving week and cooking on Thursday, we were finishing off leftovers. And Kate got her flight out on Tuesday, just before the usual Wednesday snow storm that fouls up all east coast travel on the busiest travel day of the year. Thanksgiving day we went to the movies and then grilled some nice steaks for dinner. A very pleasant two weeks.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Harvest Monday 10 November 2014



The weather is still pretty mild for this time of year. We have had some cold nights near freezing and most things in the garden show it.My garlic is planted and I am doing the final cleanup of the beds. When pulling the last of the pepper plants from this bed, I noticed these carrots have finally germinated. I planted 10 squares of these at the end of July, after pulling the onions. So that is almost 3 months to germinate, and now winter is just about here. I doubt these get big enough before the beds freeze solid. They may or may not survive the winter, depending on how bad it is and how much snow cover we have.




There are still greens in the garden. Above I cut some kale, endive, escarole, parsley and pulled a few small watermelon radishes. The escarole seems to be the least cold tolerant of these and is showing some effects of the cold nights. I have been particularly enjoying the endive, dressed with a warm bacon fat/vinegar dressing, crumbled bacon and gorgonzola.





My other harvest last week was not of my own doing. After thinking about it for a year or two, I decided to try a share in the Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF – Community Supported Fishery. It is like a CSA but for fish. Every Friday for 8 weeks I get two pounds of fish filets delivered to a local orchard in Bolton for pickup. You can’t get more convenient than that and you can’t get fresher fish unless you land them yourself. Above is this week’s delivery, Yellowtail flounder from the F/V Sabrina Marie out of Gloucester. For us, that is a lot of fish and made three meals.


That’s the harvest from my garden. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Harvest Monday 27 October 2014




There is not much left in the garden except some hardy greens and a few broccoli sprouts. I am still cleaning up the beds and getting them ready for winter. I planted the garlic last week since we were looking at a series of rainy days and I wanted them in before the deluge. Not much rain actually happened and we are having an amazingly mild fall. Weather this week is supposed to be mostly sunny with temperatures ranging 50- 60s °F/10-15 °C.




I spent a cloudy and blustery Sunday afternoon at Nashoba Valley Winery for their Oktoberfest/Blue Grass Festival. The band was Southern Rail and they are very good. It was a sell-out crowd but luckily I got there early enough for a good seat. And fortunately the crowds left me a clear path back to the beer tent and the pulled pork booth. Besides the winery, Nashoba Valley also runs a microbrewery and a distillery, so there was plenty of spirits of every kind and I tried several of their microbrews.


That is all from my garden. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing in their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Garlic Planting 2014

It’s time to plant the garlic. This year I am ahead of myself. It’s only mid-October and I actually got it all planted. A couple of days ago I prepped the beds, pulling summer plants and weeds, then adding compost and fertilizer. This year I added a lot of organic compost (McEnroe’s, since I am out of my own). I also added rock phosphate, bone meal, and a general organic fertilizer (Tomato Tone, since I have a large bag of it).




The bed above  was home to the bush beans this year, plus a row of cucumbers, so hopefully the beans helped fix some nitrogen in the soil. The amendments were blended in and the bed smoothed out. You can see the square foot markings I made to guide planting. This 4x4 foot bed has sixteen squares. I will be planting a row of four squares of four types of garlic.




I am using a spacing of 4 cloves per square this year, hoping to maximize bulb size. That gives a spacing of 6 inches in each direction. The official recommendation is 9 per square but I think that is going to affect size. I have used 5 and 6 in the past but this year I am going with 4 per square and hoping for large heads of garlic. Anyway, 64 heads from this bed is already a lot of garlic.




First in the ground, above, was the German Red rocambole garlic I bought last month at the Mount Desert Island Garlic Festival in Southwest Harbor. It was grown by Goosefooté Garlic in Irasburg, Vermont, who made the long trek to MDI for the festival. The heads were enormous with just four huge cloves per head. I purchased four heads so I had enough to plant four squares. Forget the dibble, you need a post hole digger to plant this garlic.




Next was another new garlic, Duganski, a purple stripe from Territorial. For planting I selected the best looking and largest of the cloves from the four heads I received. I documented before why I was not real happy with this shipment of garlic.The sheaths of a lot of the cloves were also loose, as you can see on the bottom cloves in the photo above. Anyway, I found enough decent cloves to plant my 4 squares and I hope the results are good.




Next was German Extra Hardy, my own seed garlic from this year. Last year I was disappointed at planting time that the heads I set aside were soft and the cloves were turning yellow. This year the seed garlic I set aside was fine and the cloves were firm.  Last year I had to discard enough cloves I only had enough for 3 squares, but this year I succeeded in planting 4  squares. So hopefully last year was an anomaly. I thought the bulbs I harvested this year were smaller but in separating cloves for planting, the individual cloves are quite large, so I am hoping for big heads next summer.




Finally for this bed, I put in my own Chesnok Red seed garlic, another purple stripe. This garlic has grown well for me and also keeps well. I think, again, that heads were a little smaller this year  than the year before, but it’s a new year and I have great expectations from this one.




After planting the garlic, I mulched the bed with chopped straw. I really like this material, made for landscapers for seeded lawns. The brand I used here is called Mulch Master. The straw is chopped so individual pieces are small, making it easy to spread around under existing plants. It is heat sterilized to kill weed seeds and I have never had a problem with weeds using it. It is light, doesn’t mat up and it quickly decomposes by the end of the season. The mulch will help protect the garlic cloves from heaving this winter when the beds go through all the freeze/thaw cycles.




Finally, I headed home with all the unused cloves from my seed garlic, planning to freeze or dry the unused cloves. What a surprise when I started removing the skins from some of the cloves. I believe the garlic cloves above were from the Duganski heads. All  of these were promptly discarded, while a few with one or two small spots were used after the spots were removed. Trying to figure out what these spots were, all I can come up with is these cloves are infected with Fusarium, also known as garlic basal rot. Notice that the color of the cloves is also yellowish when they should be white. Nice. So I just planted a row of diseased garlic in my bed, and that does not make me happy. Anyone have another, more hopeful, opinion on what these spots are?


Here is another question for those more experienced with garlic than I. Can you/do you plant garlic cloves without their sheaths? A lot of the sheaths were loose on some of the garlic, or were stuck to the neighboring clove and stripped when I separated the cloves. Those I took home to use. But in addition, if you want to avoid planting diseased cloves like those above, you have to remove the skins to see if the clove inside is healthy. I did not know these were affected or I would certainly not have planted them. Anyway, I am hoping for the best but moderating my expectations.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Harvest Monday 20 October 2014




Harvests are getting slimmer and after a couple of nights near freezing, will be even more so. I picked a nice head of endive, although not blanched as well as I would like. I have more of that and escarole still in the garden and it if slightly frost tolerant. The Swiss chard is recovering from a case of Cercospora leaf spot and I am starting to get some useable leaves. It is amazing how the color of the Magenta Sunset chard has deepened with the arrival of cooler weather. This is the chard that knocked me over when I saw it in the demonstration kitchen garden at Tower Hill. Unfortunately chard doesn’t do well in freezing weather because if its high water content.




The pepper plants have dropped most of their leaves and with possible freezing temperatures arriving, I decided to pick all of the remaining peppers, resulting in this haul. At least I managed to get a few more of the Carmen peppers to ripen. I now have a large batch of them to try roasting this week. I have to figure out what to do with the rest of the peppers. I will dehydrate some of them and maybe a pepper relish for the rest.



I did find some yellow banana peppers at the store to add to my Trinidad Spice peppers for a batch of hot sauce using Dave’s recipe. I also threw in a small Poblano, an orange Habanero, and a Shishito. The result is actually green not yellow and is still fermenting. It smells nice, not too hot.


That is what I harvested last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Harvest Monday 13 October 2014

Not much is left to harvest except some of the Fall greens. We have had overnight temperatures in the low 40s °F (4 °C) which is shutting down most of the warm weather crops even without a frost or freeze. And given our latitude, the days are shortening and the sun is lower in the sky, so by afternoon it is below the woods to the west of the garden, casting the garden into shade. With these conditions, you can’t really expect to get anything growing at this time of year. Any fall crops you want to grow will have to be started and in the ground by at least August, when it is hot and dry, if you hope to have a Fall crop.




That said, above is what I managed to salvage from the garden. The bell pepper gave me enough to do a batch of stuffed peppers. The cilantro is a second growth from volunteer seeds, always nice to have. If I had planted seeds I guarantee they would refuse to germinate. All my parsley which poked along during this dry summer has perked up and is loving the cool weather. And all of the Trinidad Spice/Perfume peppers ripened so I picked all of them. I now have enough to try making a batch of fermented “hot” sauce. If I can find some yellow Hungarian wax peppers, I will include them, the small Poblano above, plus perhaps a single orange Habanero pepper, to make a yellow semi-hot sauce.


Garden cleanup continues. Next week the garlic gets planted, after a fairly heavy Saturday rain. The main bed for them is cleared but needs to be composted and fertilized.


That is what I rescued from my garden this week. To see what gardeners around the world are doing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

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