Monday, September 29, 2014

Harvest Monday 29 September 2014

We have had fairly mild weather for this time of year, with overnight lows in the 50s. No frost warnings. Nothing happened at the house. That is why I was surprised to see all the black, withered foliage in the garden when I visited last week. The basil, bush beans and some of the peppers were gone. Other plants looked just fine. This was just an example of how much the climate can vary in just 2 miles (and a 100 foot decrease in elevation). Cold air apparently slides down hill and valleys can have frost while hillsides do not. But there are no hills around the gardens, so I can’t really explain it. Frost happens.




The Trinidad peppers in the raised beds are black and were pulled and put in the compost piles. But this Trinidad planted in-ground looks just fine and has 7 or 8 peppers ripening. I have a couple of Carmen peppers loaded with green fruit just starting to ripen and a Revolution bell with 3-4 small peppers. All I need is another week or two so I am hoping a frost or hard freeze holds off.




The tomatoes are finished, except for this Esterina yellow cherry tomato. I tried Esterina this year in place of Sungold because Esterina was supposed to be more crack resistant than Sungold. The flavor is good, not quite as candy sweet as Sungold but with a good tomato flavor. For the most part it was crack resistant, until a few weeks ago when we got a large amount of rain after a long dry spell. But look at the amount of fruit still on the vine, long after the last Juliet and Chocolate Pear were plucked off their vines. I am not sure these will all ripen in time. Anyone got a suggestion for green cherry tomatoes in case? Maybe they just go in the refrigerator pickle crock.




The last of the Pineapple tomatoes were harvested and I got a few decent slicers which we have been enjoying. The squash vines were pulled and the cucumbers are dead but will take some time to remove from the trellis netting. The pole beans are on their last legs, producing a few beans here and there. Musica is still trying to pump out beans but not for long. The summer vegetables are finished but at least some of my fall vegetables have survived the dry weather and are starting to enjoy the cooler weather.


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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Preparing Garlic Beds



We are coming up on garlic planting season, around here mid-October to early November. Most of my garlic seed is going into a bed currently occupied by the bush beans. Up until this week the bush beans were showing a second burst of production and I did not want to pull them yet, then things changed suddenly. While I did not expect and did not have a frost around my house, there apparently was one in the community garden this week, just 2 miles away, and the beans are now black while the pole beans struggle on. So I can now pull the beans and get on with preparing my garlic bed.


I have a general idea what I need to do but it was very timely that this week’s Vegetable Notes from the UMass Extension (available here) had advice on preparations for planting garlic. I guess I am not the only one doing it. These preparations are important to getting a good garlic harvest next summer. Here is a summary of what I know from experience and what I gleaned form the newsletter. This advice applies to New England and probably Canada but can be modified for other areas of the US other than the deep South.


  1. 1. Select healthy, disease-free seed garlic, either from your own harvest from this summer or from reputable growers who certify their garlic to be disease free. While we kind of think of garlic as being relatively trouble free, there are a number of diseases and pests that affect garlic and once introduced into your beds, can be hard to impossible to eliminate. In fact, the newsletter talks of a new pest in NE garlic fields, the garlic bloat nematode, which is spread by transport on seed garlic. That is why it is important to inspect each bulb and select only firm, healthy bulbs. Then when cracking the bulbs into cloves (which should only be done shortly before planting), carefully inspect each clove. Look for unhealthy-looking basal ends, discoloration, any dents or lesions, and cloves that seem lighter than normal. Discard these cloves in the trash, not the compost bin.


2. Select a bed that did not have alliums in it this year (they suggest a 4 year rotation) and prepare it. Garlic likes a light, well-drained soil with good fertility. Before planting, add a general purpose organic fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Commercial farmers test their soil and add only what is needed. I doubt any of us home gardeners do that, but the advice stands. For the Fall, use fertilizer types that will release nutrients slowly over the fall and winter (e.g., use alfalfa meal for N rather than blood meal). Reserve the quick-release nitrogen fertilizers for the Spring side dressing. The newsletter also notes there is some research that shows adding sulfur with the Fall nitrogen application can significantly increase yield.




3. Plant the garlic in the prepared beds in October in northern parts of NE to November for southern New England.  For me, I aim for sometime in the last 2 weeks of October. Garlic, just like tulips, requires a period of cold treatment to grow properly. The goal is to plant early enough to allow roots to develop before the ground freezes, but late enough to avoid sprouts from emerging and being damaged by freezing.


4. Each clove is planted 2-4 inches deep depending on the severity of your winters. I probably plant mine 2-3 inches deep. Since I use Square Foot Gardening techniques, I think in squares, not rows. For the larger garlics like German Red and Spanish Roja, I plant 4 per square, which is effectively 6 inch spacing. For the others I plant 5 or 6 per square.


5 You can mulch the garlic after planting. I use about an inch of chopped straw, which helps a bit with cold protection, moisture retention, and weed control. I don’t remove it in the Spring but if you are going to bury your beds in a foot of leaves, you need to remove them in the Spring to allow the beds to warm up and the sprouts to emerge.


6. When the foliage is about 6 inches tall in the spring, side dress the plants with a quick release nitrogen fertilizer. Follow up in 3-4 weeks with another dressing of nitrogen. After this, do not fertilize the garlic again. Do not water the garlic as you approach harvest time to ensure the wrappers are as dry as possible when you dig the garlic.


Thanks to an unforeseen early frost, my designated bed for the garlic is now available. All I have to do is clean it up, add some compost, and then apply some fertilizer. It will be nice to have the garlic in the ground and tick another item off the to-do list. And thanks to the UMass Extension, I have an even clearer picture of what I need to do to help ensure a good crop in 2015. Add to that I am planting 2 new varieties this Fall (Duganski and German Red) and I am pretty optimistic. While you have to exercise a little caution, garlic is still relatively easy to grow and has a huge payoff relative to effort invested.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Harvest Monday 22 September 2014



Last Monday I checked on the garden after being away for a week and found this guy watching over the garden. He looks well fed, doesn’t he? Of course, he is in the tomato patch when I could really use some help over in the brassicas, where some late and hungry cabbage caterpillars are shredding my collards and kale.




It is dangerous to leave the summer squash and cucumbers to themselves for a week, but fortunately they have slowed down with the cool nights and the PM. I did find a fire hydrant sized zucchini which went right into the compost bin.




The Bay Meadows broccoli is finally producing some side shoots.




The long red peppers are Carmen and are 8 inches long. That gives you an idea how big the Revolution bell pepper is. It is pretty rare for me to get a pepper that size. The small yellow Habanero-shaped peppers are the Trinidad Spice peppers.




The fall planting of root vegetables are starting to yield a few bulbs, including a golden beet overlooked by the rabbit.




I am a bit weary of beans but the beans have not given up yet. A lot of these went into a pot of stewed beans and tomatoes and the nicer ones went into the dehydrator. I rehydrated a few of the dried beans and I am not sure I like them. The idea was I could use them in a dried soup mix along with squash, turnips, carrots and other vegetables. Does anyone do this?




I finally had time to try drying garlic. The pile of cloves above were just from the Rossa di Sulmona garlic. I acquired the Zyliss garlic slicer that Dave has recommended and it worked very well. The tubular silicone rubber garlic peeler (mine is an Oxo) sort of worked but the garlic cloves are still moist and the skins are still pliable, so over half the cloves had to be peeled by hand. The result was great. The dried garlic is still very pungent and I can now make garlic powder in my spice blender (a dedicated Krups coffee grinder I got on sale) whenever I need it.


That’s what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Trinidad Spice Pepper

I am generally not a big fan of hot peppers. I grow a Jalapeño or two every year so I have some to throw in salsas and a few other dishes like stewed beans and tomatoes. And I keep some dried red chilies for Chinese dishes and some red pepper flakes from Korea for kimchee. I hear all the hype about habaneros and have a feeling that I am missing out on something. That is why is was intrigued when I ran across a category of peppers called “spice peppers” in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog. They include the usual Hungarian Paprika pepper in  their spice pepper collection, but they also offer two South American varieties of C. chinense called Aji Dulce (literally “sweet pepper”) and Trinidad Spice. Both are described as habanero-type peppers with all the fragrance and flavor but without the heat. Sounds like just what I need, so I bought seeds of both. Unfortunately, I killed the Aji Dulce starts so this year there was only Trinidad Spice in the garden.




SESE describes the Trinidad Spice as “a spice pepper with the flavor of a Habanero but with only a trace of heat in the seeds. Tall, bushy plants with light green foliage with 1" x 1½" bright yellow peppers.” They are not to be confused with the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T or the Trinidad Maruga Scorpion peppers, which are hotter than Bhut Jolokia and are absolutely lethal. Unfortunately the two plants in the raised beds have just sat there and have not even flowered yet. The single plant in-ground is now a nice bushy plant about two feet tall, despite wrestling for space with the huge zucchini next door. The flowers appear under the foliage canopy and seem to come out of the axes where leaves grow from the branches. The peppers, about 1.5 inches long, are shaped like a habanero and start off light green and ripen to a bright yellow.




So now in the name of science I have to taste these things. To be absolutely sure there is a great distance between these peppers and the Trinidad Scorpions, I did another search and found a description of these peppers on, where else,  They describe three types of mild or sweet habaneros: Aji Dulce, Venezuelan Sweet, and Trinidad Perfume. The Trinidad Perfume is described as “a mild chili pepper with very little to no heat. It is a habanero type and produces pods similar to a typical orange habanero pepper, about 1 to 1.5 inches in length and 1.25 inches wide. They mature from green to a bright yellow color. When cooked, they give off a perfume-like scent, hence the name. In flavor, they have a mild citrus-like taste, similar to a habanero, but with smoky undertones.” That seems to match what I am growing, so this is another name for Trinidad Spice. Sure sounds good! So I went ahead and tasted one, first raw, then sautéed in a little grape seed oil.  They do indeed have a citrus scent and a citrusy, fruity taste, almost orange like, whether raw or cooked. I also tried the membrane and seeds and no part of these peppers is hot. It will be interesting to try these in some actual dishes.


I am really disappointed I did not get to try the Aji Dulce peppers this year.  They are a key ingredient in many of the Caribbean and South American cuisines that don’t use a lot of hot peppers (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba). In fact, the Puerto Rican version of sofrito specifically uses the Aji Dulce peppers. The SESE catalog describes them this way: “Aji Dulce has the same shape, size, color and aroma of Habanero, but is sweet, spicy, and delicious, with only a trace of heat. The fruits are highly aromatic and the flavor is unusual and complex, with overtones of black pepper and coriander, and undertones of other spicy flavors.” They are Habanero shaped, 1-2 inches long, and mature from green to orange to red. They also require a long growing season, quoted as 115 days, starting off slowly and growing rapidly later in the season (around here that’s usually a couple of weeks before first frost). In South America they are grown as perennials (wish I could do that).


Interestingly, the University of Massachusetts Extension has actually done research on Aji Dulce, which they describe as growing well in Massachusetts, although most peppers in the markets are imported. Maybe I can find some in some Spanish markets here. The key finding from their research (not really surprising given its 115 days to maturity) is that the C. Chinense peppers need to be started indoors at least three weeks before the typical date for C. annum. That means starting seeds in late February, keeping them under lights and potting up when necessary so you have large, vigorous plants at plant out time in June. And I have an extra three weeks to kill them. The other fact from the study is that most Aji Dulce seed from the Caribbean is infected with the Pepper Mild Mosaic Virus (PMMoV). The SESE catalog says it sourced its seed from Donna Hudson in Tennessee, but since my starts died, I have no idea if they are contaminated. The Trinidad Spice definitely are healthy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Garlics For The Garden

Last week we took off for a week in Maine (Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park). It was a Sunday to Sunday trip so I missed a few Harvest Mondays and indeed, had nothing to show anyway. In a way the timing was fortunate, since I got to visit the 16th annual MDI Garlic Festival in Southwest Harbor. The festival included a farmers’ market, a number of garlic vendors, food vendors, live music, and a canine agility course. We sampled the beef brisket, the pulled pork, the chili, and a roasted garlic brownie (that the wife pronounced to be horrible).


The first garlic vendor I encountered was Goosefooté Garlic from Irasburg, Vermont. They are way up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, off I-91 just south of the Canadian border. It was quite a drive for them to get to MDI but I am glad they came. They had a mountain of garlic piled on a table, all of it just one variety, German Red. It is a Rocambole garlic from Germany discovered on an old farm in Idaho. The bulbs were huge, with just four cloves per 2-3 ounce head. I was hooked immediately and picked out four of the largest heads for planting this fall. The largest head I purchased weighed 2.9 ounces.This is apparently how Margaret buys her seed garlic, from garlic festivals, and it is indeed nice to be able to look at the various varieties, talk to the growers about them, and then pick out your own heads. And for less than a third the price of mail order garlic.




When we got home, I found another surprise in my mail box – the Duganski garlic I ordered from Territorial. I bought Spanish Roja garlic from them last year and was pleased with both the seed garlic I received and the heads I grew this year. They were by far my most successful garlic in a weird garlic season. I am not so sure I am pleased with the Duganski seed garlic I received. I ordered a little late, so maybe I got the bottom of the barrel.




Duganski is a marble purple stripe garlic from Kazakhstan with large bulbs and an initial fiery flavor and a mellow aftertaste. It produces large bulbs that are supposed to keep fairly well for a hard neck. The seed garlic I received looks like it was dug too late. The necks are curved and it almost looks like the garlic foliage was starting to fall over. The cloves are starting to separate and the wrappers are loose. You can even see on some of the cloves that the skins are cracked and the clove is exposed. Does the grower of this stuff actually know how to grow garlic? Heads like this will not keep very long. I’m hoping it holds until planting time in late October.


With the acquisition of these two new garlics, I decided not to bother trying to acclimate the Sulmona and Viola Francese garlics to my garden and they are now in the dehydrator, all of them. They will be replaced with the two new garlics, and I will be replanting the German Extra Hardy, Red Chesnok, and Spanish Roja for a total of five garlics again. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a cold, snowy winter for New England so we will see how these different garlics perform.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Harvest Monday 1 September 2014


Still lots of squash and tomatoes from the garden, but at least the beans have slowed down. The food pantry was closed Saturday for the holiday so the kitchen counters are crowded and my refrigerator is temporarily stuffed with the excess.




I finally got a couple of the Crystal Apple cucumbers to reach size. They are shown above next to the slightly larger Richmond Green Apple cucumber. They are a little fuzzy and have white spines compared to the black spines on the Richmond. Taste and texture is similar for both. They are both juicy and crunchy and if not picked too big, don’t need the skin peeled. You can eat them like an apple or slice them for salads.




An assortment of vegetables, including more of the Bay Meadows broccoli and a nice Summer Dance cucumber. I only showed a sample of the four types of beans I picked.




More squash, cucumbers and a Revolution bell pepper. That pepper has lived up to is reputation of being a good producer of bell peppers in the north. For the last few years I have avoided bell peppers because of their poor yield and grown only smaller peppers like Lipstick and now Carmen that are productive and ripen quickly.




Some of the tomato glut. The large, good looking tomato on the right is a Cherokee Purple, so not all of them are completely ugly.




Another sampling of tomatoes, most of these are Brandywine and Pineapple heirlooms. The weird one at the bottom is actually two tomatoes that set on the stem opposite each other and were pressed together as they grew.


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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Allium Harvest 2014



The allium harvest in general was a mixed bag this year, the bright spot being the seed shallots shown above. I started seed of Saffron in February and transplanted the seedlings to the garden in early May (late this year because of weather, should have been in early April). The shallots were pulled in late July when the foliage appeared to be sort of tilting horizontally. The foliage did not actually flop like onions do, but I decided it was time to pull them. They spent about 4 weeks on the porch drying out.




In about 5 square feet of bed, the Saffron shallots produced 37 bulbs (approximately 7 per square foot) weighing a total of 45 ounces, with the largest bulb weighing 2.5 ounces. Seed shallots are supposed to produce a single bulb per transplant. I actually had 3 produce twin bulbs, which can happen if they have sufficient spacing. And if you look at the close-up above, you can see from the shape of the bulbs that many of them are dividing, some are quite obvious. I will definitely be growing these again next year.




The storage onions were less successful, partly due to my own efforts to start seed. When I sowed seed in February, it was difficult to see the black seed on the black starting mix, so I sowed the seeds too thickly and the resulting seedlings were crowded. The result was spindly transplants, many of which did not survive in the garden. Above are the Red Wing onions. Five squares yielded 20 onions weighing a total of 58 ounces, compared to 139 ounces last year for the same space. I did not photograph the Patterson yellow onions, but six squares yielded 67 ounces of onions compared to 140 ounces of Copra onions last year. Pretty poor, but next year will be better!




This week the garlic was finally dry enough to clean it up. I don't know why but this year the garlic took a very long time to dry. Besides that, it was mostly a poor garlic year. The German Extra Hardy garlic above yielded 17 heads weighing 18 ounces. This garlic did not keep well last year and is only good for a couple of months given my storage conditions in the basement. When I went to plant garlic last Fall, I found that a lot of the cloves in my reserved seed garlic were turning brown and soft. The result was I only had enough viable cloves to plant three squares. Last year I got 2 pounds of garlic from four squares. I planted these a little later, so I have to be sure to get at least this variety into the ground by mid-October. Storing seed garlic is tricky I found, as detailed in my post on storing seed garlic.




The Chesnok Red garlic I grew last year produced nice, fairly large heads and stored much better than the German Extra Hardy, so I had enough seed garlic to plant the allocated 4 squares. Given the poor garlic season this year, it did alright but yield was down. Last year I harvested 2.5 pounds from 5 squares, and this year I got 32 heads weighing 1.7 pounds from 4 squares. Largest head weighed 1 ounce. Still, it is a great garlic and gets re-planted this Fall.




I was infected with garlic fever after my success last year growing garlic for the first time. I decided I wanted to try an additional variety, and high on to try list was Spanish Roja garlic. I bought mine from Territorial, which touted that their garlic seed stock was certified virus free and therefore the heads would be much larger. Whatever, this garlic did very well this year, the best of the garlics. Six squares yielded 33 heads weighing almost 3 pounds. The biggest bulb weighed 2 ounces. This is a keeper and gets planted again this Fall, and I recommend Territorial as a source of excellent seed garlic.




Unfortunately, when I go looking for something like Spanish Roja seed garlic, I get exposed to all the pretty pictures on the Internet describing the dozens of varieties of garlic. For some reason I became enamored of Rossa di Sulmona garlic, a  legendary garlic from the village of Sulmona in Abruzzo, Italy and had to have some. Most vendors were sold out but Seeds of Italy had some stock coming in from Italy, waiting for clearance through customs.


The heads of garlic from Seeds of Italy were big and beautiful but my results were less so. You can see my harvest of this garlic above. Note that the large white head of garlic above is a Spanish Roja I put in the basket for size comparison. My half pound of seed garlic planted in 5 squares yielded 40 small heads weighing a total of 17 ounces. So what’s the deal? Is this a matter of the garlic getting acclimated to my climate in New England, which is probably a bit different than Abruzzo, or just a bad year here for growing garlic? There are a couple of larger heads I could use for seed garlic to see if it adapts better next year, but I am on the fence about re-planting this variety.




I also was tempted into trying Viola Francese, a garlic popular in the Mediterranean regions of France and Italy. It is a beautiful garlic with large heads, supposedly an artichoke-type softneck garlic (which it is definitely not, as I will detail in a future post). I found some at Cook’s Garden and tried it. The results were the worst of the 5 varieties I planted. This one was grown in the US so I can’t blame the source climate. From two heads weighing 4 ounces, I harvested 15 heads weighing a total of 9 ounces. They are teensy and were difficult to clean, since the outside skins seemed to stick to the cloves. Most likely not planting this one again.

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