Sunday, May 22, 2016

Garden Update - End of May 2016

The Solomon Seals my wife planted last year in the back of the hosta bed are up and blooming. We have lots of False Solomon Seal growing wild around the yard but I have never seen a Solomon Seal around here. When pollinated each flower will produce a small blue-black berry. The False Solomon Seal flowers at the end of the stem and produces a cluster of red berries.

In the community garden, now that it almost June I finally got all of the cool weather crops transplanted or seeded. What remains to do is plant the warm weather crops (beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash). That will happen the first week of June after I return from a visit to St. Louis for my niece's wedding next weekend. I still have to prepare the beds in the in-ground plot for the tomatoes and peppers, but otherwise I am all set to do it when I get back.

The tomatoes are potted up and under the grow lights. They are looking good and should hold for another two weeks before being set out in the garden. The weather here is still pretty unsettled. You can see that after declaring a disaster, I managed to get enough seedlings started to meet my needs, except for Sunkist, where only 1 of 10 seeds germinated. The current inventory (out of 6 planned seedlings for each variety):

  • 4 Bing
  • 5 Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye
  • 3 Black Beauty
  • 1 Sunkist
  • 5 Sweet Treats
  • 4 Rose de Berne
  • 5 Jaune Flamme
  • 3 Honey Drop
  • 6 Juliet
  • 4 Black Cherry (purchased)
Since I have room for 28 tomatoes, I will have to select from the above for my garden and try to give the rest away.

All of the peppers are potted up and doing well under the lights. I did have a complete failure of the Carmen seeds to germinate and I killed a few of the Super Shepherd plants, but I did pretty well with the rest. I am also missing the Tiburon Anchos I planned because I simply forgot to order seeds. Jalapeno plants will just be purchased. Here is the inventory:

4 Hungarian Paprika
2 Super Shepherd
6 Jimmy Nardello
5 Lemon Drop
6 Revolution

A couple of the Lemon Drop peppers are going into containers I will bring inside in hopes of extending the season. A big problem will be whether there is enough light for them in the winter.

The cruciferous flea beetles have found my uncovered brassicas. Fortunately they have not yet bothered the waxy leaved plants like the Golden Acre cabbage and the kohlrabi. But they have found the mustards and are feasting on them. I did one spraying of Spinosad but that did not bother them. Pyrethrin is next to try. I usually alternate those two sprays to try to avoid building up immunity. My radishes are starting to emerge in another bed so I need to get that covered before they find them.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Harvest Monday 16 May 2016

First harvest comes from cleaning out the beds for the new growing season. These are some volunteer bunching onions scattered around the garden after I failed to deadhead one of their ancestors. These were timely because I had some meals planned, both Mexican and Chinese, that called for scallions.

Last September I showed the innovative trellising techniques used by Mr. Yin, our intrepid Chinese gardener. This picture shows the elaborate trellising method he used to get his winter melon vines to grow vertically. He also had to support the melons somehow, in this case with a large rock placed under the melon to support it and keep it off the ground.

Last week he gifted me this huge winter melon he grew in the gardens. It weighed in at over 7 pounds. What do you do with winter melon (also known as ash gourd or white gourd)? You make soup.

First step is to cut the melon (or gourd) in half with a very sturdy knife. The rind or skin is really a thick, rigid, plastic-like shell that is very hard to cut. In Chinese supermarkets, winter melon is often sold pre-cut into wedges

Next step is to remove the seeds and pulp with a scoop. The seeds are black and very large.

Next I cut the halves into wedges and removed the shell. The shell or rind is very thick and rigid and I was able to just pull the flesh out from the shell. Then the flesh is cut into small cubes for the soup. For the soup, prepare a rich chicken or pork broth flavored with some fresh ginger. The melon cubes are cooked in the broth 45-60 minutes until they are tender. Add some slivered Black Forest ham and shiitake mushrooms and a sliced scallion.

The result is a simple dish with a range of contrasts, visual and tactile. The winter melon does not add a lot of flavor. It is not entirely flavorless, having a subtle melon taste. What it offers in the soup is a velvety texture that is a contrast to the chewiness of the mushrooms and ham. The translucent whiteness of the melon also contrasts with the earthy brown mushrooms and the red of the ham. Just a simple, elegant dish that is very easy to make.

That is all my nascent garden produced last week. To see what other gardeners are coaxing from their gardens, visit Dave at Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Planting Leeks

After planting my storage onions from Dixondale Farms, the next goal was to get the leeks, shallots and Purplette onions I started from seed into the garden beds. The fact I am planting my own leeks is a bit amazing. I decided to try starting my own this year instead of buying no-name plants purchased from a garden center. I chose Takrima, an F1 hybrid from Johnnys. I reported earlier that Takrima was a total failure, with just one seed emerging and then damping off. I continued to water my expensive failure and fully a month after planting the seeds, they started to emerge. In fact, they came up rapidly and caught up with the other onions. Happily I wound up with the nice pot of seedlings below.

The raised bed was prepared for the leeks by using a dibble and preparing large, deep holes in the bed, 5/square.

The pot of leeks was dumped out and individual plants were separated, carefully teasing apart the entwined roots.

A leek plant was then inserted into each hole. The trick was to get the plant and its roots into the bottom of the hole. Trying to use fingers or a stick to accomplish this tended to break the roots. I finally took the plant by its stem and pushed it down into the hole. The plant stems were stiff enough to accomplish this. The result was a plant with its roots at the bottom of a large hole. The soil will eventually fill in after several waterings and the result will be a leek with a long blanched white stem without trenching or hilling. I also planted a closely space row of these between the squares to pull as baby leeks.

Shallots were next but I did not bother to photograph them. This year I tried Conservor since Ambition is showing very poor storage life. Germination was fine but their longevity in pot was disappointing. It looked like they were going dormant. I do not have high hopes of these. I really miss the Saffron shallots which were ideal for my conditions and stored forever.

Next was the Purplette onions from Johnnys, a small-bulbed onion with a lavender blush used for fresh onions. These were robust germinators and growers and I had a beautiful pot of them to transplant.

I allocated two squares to these, planted 16/square. I plan to pull every other one first, allowing the remaining onions to get a bit larger. That space allotment only used half the onions. The rest will be tucked into corners here and there in the garden and pulled as fresh onions.

All of the alliums are now planted, a bit late but it is done. Next goal is to get the brassicas into the ground, cabbages/kohlrabi first, then the kale and broccoli.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Finally a little more progress ...

Saturday before last was our work weekend for the Bolton Community Garden, a day I (being garden coordinator) get to choose and command gardeners to show up and do community chores in the garden. It was a beautiful day but only a handful of my serfs showed up. Still, we accomplished a lot in cleaning up debris, turning the compost bins, and re-laying the weed barrier for the storage area in the garden. What I did not get to do is weed my own beds and get them ready to plant. That I planned to do on Sunday, but the rain showed up right on schedule early on Sunday morning.

Last week continued to be miserable with continual rain, gloom, and temperatures in the mid 40s F/ 6 C for six days. The heat in the house was still on and we have not yet raised the storm windows. It looked like we were getting a break for the weekend, but the updated forecast showed rain through the weekend. So when the sun came out last Friday for a period I decided it was time for some mud gardening. I headed off to the garden with my Dixondale onion plants, determined to get them into the ground.

The mild winter meant that weeds left in the garden last fall had a great opportunity to grow and put down huge roots. In the bed above, can you guess the row that had legumes growing in it?  Of course that row is scheduled to get the peas this year and it will probably take me a half hour to dig out those weeds.

At least the garlic bed is looking good, enjoying the blood meal feeding I gave it.

It took me over an hour to prep the beds for the onions, weeding and adding some bagged McEnroe organic compost and a generous measure of Garden Tone organic fertilizer. Planting the onion plants was relatively fast after the bed preparation. Above are the Red Wing red storage onions.

Next I put in the Copra yellow storage onions. The one advantage of being late to plant is that the onion plants had already started to break dormancy. The plants are shipped dormant, looking quite dry and pale. Last year I got them in the ground earlier and commented that it took weeks for them to start to green up and break dormancy. You can see that the plants above are starting to show bright green foliage, indicating they are no longer dormant.

While it rained, I did take the opportunity to pot up some of my tomato and pepper plants. Above are my Juliet tomatoes in Solo cups, and the Lemon Drop peppers in 4-inch pots. While I had germination problems with the peppers and particularly the tomatoes. I have somewhat recovered. I will give an update inventory in another post.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Seedling Progress

The weather has been variable and it is chilly and breezy, more like March than late April weather. It has also been quite dry but still cloudy, and starting the garden is going to be difficult until the pump man re-installs the foot valves removed for the winter. I have not done anything in the garden yet except visit a few times, but I need to get going really, really soon.

As an example, the kales above are just about ready to be set out in the garden. I will have a single brassica row for the kale, broccoli, collards, and cabbages. Putting them in one row will allow me to cover them with row cover on hoops to keep the flea beetles and cabbage caterpillars at bay. From left: Red Ursa, Nash's Green, and Nero di Toscana.

Most of the broccolis are also ready to go. From left: Spigariello liscia, Blue Wind, and Atlantis. I am particularly impressed by the size and vigor of Atlantis and have high hopes for it.

The cabbages are ready as well. Clockwise from upper left: Golden Acre cabbage, Flash collards, Green Wave mustard, and Minuet Napa cabbage. The Green Wave mustard is getting impatient and starting to bolt. I may just re-seed it in place. The Minuet cabbage seedlings, new this year,  look a little strange for a Napa. The leaves are serrated on the edge and a bit fuzzy. I may start some Soloist as a backup.

The kohlrabis are doing well and are ready to go. These will get planted in the raised beds. Again, I have to plan the bed assignments so I can group plants that need covering together. Flea beetles are a big menace but the caterpillars seem less likely to attack these smaller plants. Top row is Azur Star and the bottom row is Winner.

Lettuces are also ready. Clockwise from upper left: Green Ice, Red Sails, and Buttercrunch, The fourth flat has escarole in the top row and endive in the bottom. I decided I was planting too may of them and didn't use them all before they bolted. So this year, three of each to start. The three lettuces above will go into my City Picker self-watering container on the deck, for easy harvesting without driving to the garden. I have also started seeds for Midnight Ruffles, Winter Density Romaine, and Webb's Wonderful crisphead which will go into my raised beds at the community garden.

I have shown the good and the bad, so now for the ugly. Above are pictured my successes with the solanums this year. The peppers clockwise from upper left: Revolution, Jimmy Nardello, Hungarian Paprika, and Lemon Drop. The sole tomato flat is Juliet. The rest of my tomatoes and peppers either failed to emerge (even after pre-sprouting) or I killed them by failing to notice a flat or two under the humidity dome had dried out. Just takes one oversight to wipe out weeks of effort.

I am happy with what I do have. Revolution and Jimmy Nardello are must have peppers for me. And how can I not be happy that I managed to sprout and grow those beautiful Lemon Drop plants after swearing off baccatam peppers. The best of those will go in containers to be brought inside for the winter to see if I can get some to ripen. And I have three (maybe four) Hungarian Paprika plants to play with again. Carmen completely failed to germinate from fresh seed, so that is puzzling and disappointing, but I may be able to buy them locally. The Super Shepherd peppers germinated but I managed to let their flat dry out and kill them. If I can find Carmen I will just substitute them for the Super Shepherd, which were just an experiment.

The tomato situation is a somewhat bigger disaster, since none of the tomatoes I was planning to grow are available locally. I did push some new seeds into the cells in the flats and some of them are starting to emerge now, so I may recover partially. After all, it is still 5 weeks or more to setting out.The Chinese gentleman in our community garden direct seeds his tomato plants and they eventually catch up with everyone's transplants. So not all is lost.

Finally, just to add additional pressure to get the garden ready, my onion plants arrived from Dixondale Farms last week and are being kept cool in the basement. These are Copra yellow storage onions and Red Wing red storage onion. They are huge and beautiful, better than anything I can grow. The one disadvantage is they are dormant, which makes it possible to store and ship them. I have found it takes up to a month before they break dormancy and resume growth. I suspect a well grown onion start might compete, being actively growing when it is set out in the garden. Anyway, the race is on to get these in the garden since day length is what it is all about, and how much foliage they can add before the summer solstice starts to shorten days up here in the northern latitudes.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring Tiptoes In

I took a photograph of my Meyer lemon tree in January and noted it lacked blossoms, which it produces in abundance each spring. Well, the tree now has blossoms, so it must finally be spring. The sun is definitely stronger but it is still chilly and windy outside. On Sunday I stopped at the garden while doing a shopping excursion. It may be spring but the garden looks like tundra.

The only green is from the weeds that overwintered. The soil is still a bit boggy and not really ready to work. And there is more rain in the forecast, so no need to rush things.

There is a bit of green showing in my own garden plot. The garlic looks healthy and just needs a shot of nitrogen to get it really going.

Inside it is warm and the seedlings are doing well under the grow lights. The lettuces, broccoli and cabbages are sown and have germinated. While small now, they are weeks away from weather where it would be safe to plant them outside, so  these are on schedule. A couple of years ago I was wooed by an unseasonably mild spring and transplanted early, only to be set back severely by a single hard freeze.

The peppers this year are doing very well. The technique of pre-sprouting with a wet paper towel inside a plastic bag worked really well and all peppers have germinated adequately, and most of the sprouted seeds have emerged from the flats in which they were transplanted.

The tomatoes, however, are a mixed bag and I am not real happy. Usually I have much better luck with tomatoes. I tried the same pre-sprouting technique used for the peppers with the tomatoes. I was really surprised with how long some varieties took to sprout. Currently I am still waiting for Sunkist, Black Beauty, and Jaune Flamme to sprout after two weeks.. I sprinkled a few more seeds on the paper towels in case the original seeds are DOA. These are three varieties I can not buy locally so if they do not sprout soon I will not be growing them this year.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Seed Starting Season

Here in Massachusetts zone 5b, the gardening season has begun. Most of the brassicas have sprouted and are tucked snugly under the grow lights. The pepper seeds were placed in damp paper towels inside plastic bags on top of the grow lamp, where a warm  environment is maintained 16 hours a a day, and have started to germinate.

Outside, the picture is a bit different. We had a quick moving storm come through which gave us an inch of wet snow and some wind, but the sun is now out. This will all melt quickly.

This cardinal arrived on its way north and is not bothered in the least by a quick spring snowstorm. And fortunately, no power outages.

The pepper seeds have been on top of the grow lamps covered with a kitchen towel since March 27 and are starting to germinate. First to germinate were Revolution, Carmen, and Super Shepherd.


These germinated Super Shepherd seeds were placed in 6-cell flats and are now kept on the heat mat until they emerge from the starting mix.

The onions and shallots have received their second haircut and the trimmings are destined for omelets and other culinary uses. The expensive Takrima leek seeds finally emerged after a month and received their first trim along with the onions. I’m happy I will not have to buy leek seedlings after all.

Sunday I sowed nine varieties of tomato seeds, using the same technique I used with the pepper seeds. They are now on top of a grow lamp and will hopefully start to germinate within a week’s time. The plan is to get six of each started, or 54 tomato plants. That is much more than I have space for, but I will pot them up into 4 inch pots and then select the best for myself. The rest will be shared with friends.

Next up will be lettuces and chard. The lettuces will mostly go into self-watering planter on the deck where they are easily accessed without a drive to the garden. Then I have to get the garden beds cleaned up and figure out where I am going to put all of these plants. Hopefully we don’t fall into a pattern of stormy Sundays because that is the only day I have free until late April.

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