Monday, July 28, 2014

Harvest Monday 28 July 2014



My gardening style is all about laziness. Not surprisingly, my landscaping style runs similar but it has its advantages. For example, if I had cleared out the brambles under the Kousa dogwood last year, would I have this bowl of black raspberries today? Probably not. But I have resolved, as soon as the raspberries are all picked, I will deal with the brambles.


The garden is coming up to full production. I’m still cutting chard and pulled a few beets. Usually my chard is bolt resistant (after all, it is a biennial) but I had one plant start to bolt. It was the Magenta Sunset and I read somewhere that pink or red stalked varieties were more likely to prematurely bolt.




Plenty of kale and collard greens.




The bell peppers are from Revolution, a bell that is supposed to produce thick walled peppers in the North. I gave up on bells and plant smaller varieties like Lipstick because I get better yield and quality. But since I killed a lot of my pepper starts, I grabbed a pack of these to try. These peppers are from the in-ground plants, the raised bed equivalents have marble size peppers on them. And that is my first Pingtung eggplant.




More beans and squash. Beans are being picked almost daily. I read in Johnny’s catalog that the size and even the existence of a green spot on the end of the Y-Star patty pan is variable depending on heat and plant stress. The plant looks pretty happy to me, I don’t think it is being stressed. And it is an F-1 hybrid so cross-pollination shouldn’t be an issue.




Four kinds of beans are being harvested. Clockwise from upper right, Gold Marie, first picking of Jade, Provider and Musica. The Provider beans went into a batch of refrigerator dilly beans, using this recipe.




Tomatoes and my first cucumber, a Jackson Classic pickler. I’m harvesting the tomatoes as soon as they start to show color to keep the birds from destroying them. I have lost almost a dozen of the Juliet tomatoes to the birds so far. They have not bothered the other tomato varieties but I don’t want to take a chance. The large tomato is a Big Beef, with a couple of Jaune Flamme below it. The cherries are Esterina, which are supposed to be more crack resistant than Sungold, but notice the blossom end rot on two of them! I have never had BER on a cherry tomato before.




That's all from my garden and weed patch in Bolton. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Garden Bits

I used to be a bush bean kind of guy because they work well in raised beds. I plant them in large squares and surround them with some low fencing. They support themselves and the dense foliage canopy shades the ground, conserving moisture and shading out weeds. When I decided to try pole beans,  I used the trellis method on an edge row of a bed, as I had been doing for cucumbers. These were 5 foot trellises because they are made from half inch conduit which comes in 10 foot lengths and is cut in half, good enough for cucumbers in my climate. I grew Fortex and Trionfo Violetto beans on these, which were not too bad with  the five foot height. Now I’m growing Musica and Gold Marie and noticing that more trellis height would be a big advantage.


The Gold Marie beans are on a 5 foot trellis and showing impressive growth, so I tried to extend the trellis with some 4 foot tomato stakes attached to the uprights. This was a real feat of rigging because the cable ties I brought were too short, so I wound up attaching the stakes with some large binder clips I use to fasten row cover to the hoops. Yes, it is ugly.




The photo below are the Musica beans topping an 8 foot trellis and reaching for the sky. I already can’t reach the top of this trellis to remove Japanese beetles or to harvest without a stepstool. Yet the bean leaders are easily 2-3 feet past the top and waving in the wind. My gosh, exactly how tall do I have to make the trellis and do I really get an increased yield?




I recently finished seeding my fall crops except for the carrots, which are waiting for the onions to come out. Trying to start seeds in late July with temperatures above 80 every day requires a daily trek to the garden to water. Well, I succeeded and my radishes, shown below, are the first to emerge. Among them are watermelon radishes, which supposedly do better at this time of year, tending to bolt if planted in the spring. Since then, the Asian greens, kohlrabi, turnips, beets, and spinach have all emerged. Just waiting on some scallions and cilantro.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Scuffle Hoes



When I started using raised beds for my garden, a lot of my garden tools got retired to the shed. No need for the spades and hoes anymore. The little Mantis tiller sits in the corner of the shed because now I garden with just a trowel and a hand cultivator. But this year, because there were unused plots available in the garden, I took on an additional half plot to grow a few additional tomatoes and peppers, so some of the tools were brought out of retirement.


With conventional in-ground gardening, weeds are one of the major problems. I use plastic row cover, but the paths between the rows are prone to being quickly overgrown with weeds. Other than using cardboard or landscape fabric on the paths (a bit unsightly), weeding the paths can become a chore. But I have a tool I use for that, the scuffle hoe, which I have brought out of retirement. Since I have been using it, some of my garden neighbors are amazed at how easy it is to keep paths mostly weed free. It seems they have no idea what a scuffle hoe is or how it is used, so here is a description.


While there are many designs, the basic idea is to have a cutting blade that lies parallel to the soil, attached to a shaft long enough that you can use it standing up. By pushing it forward and pulling it back (scuffling), the blade cuts a shallow swath through the soil, severing the roots of the weeds and creating a thin layer of crumbled soil that dries into dust. By keeping it shallow, you avoid turning up deeply buried weed seeds, you sever the roots of existing weeds and even germinating but un-emerged ones, and the top layer of soil can dry, forming a dust mulch that inhibits germination of more weed seeds. My technique is to do this when the surface soil is dry, then I work from one end of the row to the other so I don’t walk on and compact the weeded soil, to ensure it dries into dust. I do this about once a week and that is adequate to keep the paths mostly weed free, and is quick and almost effortless.


There are essentially two variations on the design of the scuffle hoe: bladed and stirrup. The bladed hoe has a flat blade of various shapes with beveled edges that is mounted at an angle to a shaft so you can use it standing up. Below is a photo of the blade of my hoe. It was made by Ames True Temper but I don’t believe they make it anymore. Too bad, because I really like it. It’s not real wide which means reduced effort to scuffle it and it can be used in and around plants. In addition, the point on the side can be used to dig out established weeds like dandelions.




True Temper does make other blade scuffle hoe designs sold at big box and hardware stores. But there are also a number of “boutique” manufacturers, such as Rogue,  who make unique designs, triangular or diamond in shape, with hardened steel blades and quality ash handles. Rogue hoes are made in Kansas from recycled agricultural disc steel and are so cool I almost want to go back to in-ground gardening (just kidding,  I will stick with my raised beds, thank you). They do have a nifty hand held one which would be ideal for use within the beds, so I may own a Rogue yet. Since scuffle hoes have been used in Europe for centuries, some of the better ones come from Europe, such as the hoes made by the Dutch company DeWit. The photo below is the Rogue 60S, which is 6 inches wide. The pointed nose of the triangle should make it easier to push the hoe forward., and the very sharp edges on the hardened steel blade should slice through weeds easily.




The other scuffle hoe design is generally called a stirrup hoe because it uses a curved blade that looks somewhat like the stirrup of a saddle, although you will see other names such as action hoe or oscillating or hula hoe. Sometimes the blade is fixed to the shaft and sometimes it pivots so it can adjust to forward and backward motions (the so-called “action” hoe). Since only the flat bottom piece of the stirrup is sharpened, the hoe can be used close to plants because the sides of the stirrup will not damage the plant.




The best of this type hoe comes from Europe, such as the Ammann hoe from Switzerland, but it will cost as much as double the big box store product. The swivel mechanism is better and sturdier than the design above. In addition, the cutting blade is a heavier gauge, has a flat cross section, is replaceable, and is slightly bowed rather than flat. A good comparison of these two types of stirrup hoes can be viewed in this video:



Any of these hoes will serve you well and greatly improve your gardening life if you are still in to conventional gardening and have not discovered the pleasures of Square Foot Gardening. I admit, I are an ingeneer  and tend to be a snob about really well designed tools. Regardless, a scuffle hoe of any design or manufacture (or several if you choose) will make weeding easier and almost enjoyable. If you do not possess one, you need to get one. Just read the reviews on them anywhere to see what you are missing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Harvest Monday 21 July 2014

As a little reminder of how nasty last winter was, the local paper says that the selectmen are dealing with a budget deficit from last winter when the highway department had to treat roads for 45 separate storms, the most in Bolton history. We are now having a spell of great summer weather. It did rain Tuesday and Wednesday , but except for that daytime temperatures have been in the 80s and overnight temperatures in the 60s. The garden has responded by putting on a growth spurt. The warm weather vegetables are close to yielding large amounts of veggies while the cool weather vegetables have bolted or shut down. Tomatoes and peppers look very healthy and the summer squash and beans are about to deliver.




I harvested the first Soloist Chinese cabbage. After removing chewed up outer leaves and de-slugging it, it weighed in at 2.5 pounds. This was supposed to be a miniature cabbage. Half of this went into an Asian Cole slaw for the Sunday BBQ. Since I have garlic chives in the garden, I’m thinking the rest goes into dumplings.


The last broad beans were harvested and I pulled out the plants, along with the peas. I got about a half cup of shelled beans total out of the effort. They were tasty but I am inclined not to waste the space next year. I also pulled a few of the Jaune Boule d’Or turnips which were ready. The freed up pea/fava bed was planted with beets and spinach. The only trouble with seeding raised beds this time of year is I now have to water the seed beds every day or risk getting nothing, the beds dry out so fast.




The first of the warm weather vegetables are making their debut. I picked a handful of Provider bush beans, a few Sishito and Jalapeno peppers, and a Y-Star patty pan. This is first time growing Y-Star and I am not sure what to expect.The catalog pictures show it a golden yellow with a green spot on the blossom end. Mine started out dark green and then gradually turned yellowish. No green spot on the end, and this one was already pretty large for a patty pan so I harvested it. Eating quality was good but I think I’m back to Sunburst next year. I didn’t photograph it but I removed the rest of the Green Wave mustard, which was starting to bolt, and planted escarole and endive in the freed up space.


That’s what happened in my garden this week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Salad Garden





One of the joys of having a garden is enjoying fresh salads from your own garden every day. What makes it less of a joy is having to drive a couple miles to the community garden to pick the lettuce and herbs. Last fall I decided that this year I would use a self-watering planter on the deck to grow lettuces and herbs. What I purchased last year was a system called Citypickers from Home Depot. If you wait until the end of the season as I did, you can often pick these up at clearance for a discount. Lowes has the same system under a different name.




The box is made of sturdy plastic and comes with casters. It has a water reservoir at the bottom of about 5 gallons capacity and a perforated base for the soil. A filler tube on one corner is used to replenish water in the reservoir. The box holds 1.5 cubic feet of planting mix.




I used a standard sterile planting mix consisting of peat moss and perlite. The tedious part is wetting the plating mix in batches and packing it in the box. When you get it filled a couple of inches below the top of the box, dolomitic lime is spread around on the planting mix.





The lime is covered with more planting mix, up to the top edge. Next you add a granulated garden fertilizer. I used Espoma Garden-tone, a 3-4-4 organic vegetable fertilizer. Where this is added depends on what you are planting. Since this box was going to host lettuce plants, I chose to add the fertilizer n a trench dug down the longitudinal  center of the box. The lettuce plants will be inserted on either side of the fertilizer strip.





The boxes are supposed to come with an elasticized plastic cover, but both boxes I purchased were missing the cover. So I substituted plastic cut from compost bags, held on the edges of the box with binder clips. Since the covers need to be replaced every year and no one sells the replacements, this is a far more practical and economical solution. To plant, you cut holes in the plastic cover and insert the plants.




This is what container lettuce looks like. These are New Red Fire and Merlot lettuces, with a glimpse of Jericho at the top. The area top left was destined for Green Ice but I killed the starts. Even without it, I get enough lettuce for a luncheon salad every day, and I dropped off a big bag for the food pantry this morning.


The second box was intended for herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro, dill and rosemary, but I never had the time to fill the box. Next year I will definitely use the box for herbs. Just like lettuce, it would be nice to go on the back deck and snip some fresh basil or a little cilantro rather than drive a couple miles to fetch it.

Overall the salad planter has been a real success and I will be using it again next year along with the herb planter.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Harvest Monday 14 Jul 2014

Not much from the garden this week after last week’s glut. I cut more chard and picked more peas. The chard  was used in a gratin that my wife ate without complaint, proving that a lot of cheese, butter and garlic can make anything palatable to the picky.




I harvested a head of what I thought was Buttercrunch only to find it was Romaine, which I didn’t know I planted. How strange, it could not have been a volunteer since I planted it. Maybe a stray seed got in the seed packet.




This is Rossa Lunga di Tropea, actually Rossa Lunga di Boltonea since it was not actually grown in Tropea. Don’t want the EU police after me. I donated these to a neighbor gardener’s pot luck potato salad after she spilled her (one and only) diced onion all over the floor.




Daphne harvested her garlic so I thought I better check mine and decided to dig the lot of it. Below is the garlic harvest, five different types, which is now drying in the garage.Some family members are complaining about garlic fumes, but the smell should subside in a few days as they dry. I don’t think it will take the paint off the cars but it will keep the vampires at bay for awhile.




The most impressive harvest was the Spanish Roja garlic, which is new to me this year. It is a rocambole type of hardneck, not a good keeper but it is supposed to have great flavor. The heads were enormous.




Below are twin heads, from a clove I failed to separate completely. It was hard to tell with this particular garlic, so I had several cases of this. I am amazed how large the heads grew while this close together.




And this was a case of planting the clove upside down. The flat basal end is supposed to be down we all know, but for some cloves it may be hard to tell.




This is a Viola Francese, an artichoke type of softneck. I have not grown this type before so I probably pulled these too late. They certainly did not perform well at all. This is supposed to produce large heads, and the single head I received was large,  but all the heads are about this size. And what are the bulbils forming in a blister around the stem all about? Apparently I can plant those bulbils this fall and get a single clove/bulb next year and a full head the second year. Commercial farmers use this method to increase their planting stock without having to purchase heads and risk introducing disease to their farm, and I may try it for fun.




Finally, a little more about commercial garlic farmers simply dropping scapes on the ground rather than collecting and selling them. According to the High Mowing catalog, to plant an acre of garlic (is that a lot for a commercial garlic farm?), you need to purchase 1,500 pounds of seed garlic per acre, which is equivalent to 60 million cloves per acre (planted 6” apart with 18” between rows). So that would be 60 million scapes to remove per acre, probably by hand, and either collect or drop on the ground. I think most will get dropped, with maybe a few going home for the farmer and his help to enjoy. Maybe they should try pick-your-own scapes.


To see what other gardeners are harvesting from their garden, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


The warmer weather put the garden in full growth mode. The garden is at the in-between stage other gardeners have reported, of harvesting the last of the spring greens and waiting for the tomatoes, peppers and squash to appear.


The tomatoes are doing well, probably the best in several years. It is probably a combination of better weather and some different varieties I am growing. The only disease apparent is bacterial speck on the Big Beef tomatoes, which also had problems last year. I have started spraying the tomatoes and peppers, alternating copper with Serenade, both organic fungicides. I don’t like to do this but if I don’t, I could lose the whole season.


The Blue Beech paste tomatoes, an heirloom of Italian origin from Blue Beech Farm in Vermont, are looking outstanding, growing like weeds. They are even more enthusiastic and harder to control than Juliet, which is saying a lot. This tomato supposedly has the droopy gene, but the leaves look nothing like the spindly foliage of Striped Roman or even Gilbertie. They sucker like crazy and have a dense canopy of foliage, but they are also setting a load of fruit. Below are shots of fruit at the top and bottom of one plant. Note the variety of shapes of the fruits on the same plant, from oxheart to long and slender. The plants were purchased from my neighbor, Jem Mix, from seeds obtained from Fedco.






Another new tomato in the garden is Jaune Flamme, a French heirloom I grew from seed. It looks like it is going to produce 1.5-2” tomatoes, not a cherry but not a slicer. So far the plants are healthy and have set some nice trusses of fruit, shown below, but they are looking a bit petite compared to Juliet next door.




Also new for me this year is Esterina, a yellow cherry that is an experiment. I tried this one in place of my favorite, Sungold, since it is supposed to be just as sweet but more crack resistant. This is an organic F1 hybrid developed by Genesis Seeds. The clusters below in no way match the amazing marketing photos in the seed catalogs, but I hope they at least taste as good as Sungold. I didn’t have room to plant Sungold alongside as a control, but I have a feeling that Esterina is a little later than Sungold would be.




For slicing tomatoes, a new one I’m planting this year is Sunkist, shown below. The plants are robust and healthy, looking better than their neighbors, Big Beef. Sunkist is a medium-sized orange slicer that was developed by the University of New Hampshire. It is supposed to produce 8-10 ounce orange fruits that are as sweet as the red ones. I grew these plants from organic F1 seeds produced by High Mowing at their Vermont farm. When I first looked at the photo below I had a start. The tomato leaf left of center looks a little like a hornworm




The Big Beef have set some nice clusters of fruit, below, but you can see the (few) leaves with speck left on the plant. I am hoping I get some nice slicers from these guys.




The allium family is now starting to produce bulbs. Below are Patterson, a yellow storage onion. I did a bad job of starting seeds and some of the transplants didn’t survive. That means fewer onions this year but hopefully with the additional space, they will be bigger.




The Red Wing transplants fared a little better than Patterson. Below is a Red Wing starting to size up.




The Saffron seed shallots below are also starting to form bulbs. I have never grown these so I have to do some research on when to harvest and how to store them. I am assuming it is the same as any other storage onion, but I will check to be sure.




The bush beans are doing well and are now flowering, so beans in a week or two! The Jade beans are on the left and Provider on the right. While planted the same time, Provider always emerges a week before Jade and has better germination than Jade, so that is why they look like they are at different stages of development. There is also a row of Jackson Classic pickling cukes along the trellis which are starting to grab on to the trellis so they can get themselves above the mass of beans.




Finally, as an example of how I try to maximize output from my limited gardening space, below is a 3x6 bed that would typically have two bush-type summer squash in it, each allocated a 3x3 area. Since squash seeds get planted early June and don’t attain significant size until July, the corners and middle of the bed can be used by crops that will come out by mid-July. In this case, the middle  2x3 space was planted to Rossa Lunga onions (on left) and shallots (on right), both of which will probably be harvested by mid to late July. I have also put spinach in this area, since it will be totally harvested well before July. The corners can be planted early with radishes or turnips.


In this bed, you can see one squash in the foreground, shallots and onions in the middle, and another squash (a Tromboncino climbing squash) in the background. There is an 8’ trellis at the far end that the Tromboncino will climb. In each corner of that end I planted Musica pole beans which are already up to the top of the trellis and flowering. I am hoping Musica and the Tromboncino can share the trellis nicely.



Monday, July 7, 2014

Harvest Monday 7 JUL 2013

I was gone for the last week of June and knew I was leaving garlic scapes, turnips, radishes, chard and mustard to be harvested when I got back. My son watered and kept up with the scapes for me. Fortunately, most items held, but that left me with a lot to harvest when I got back.




Half of the white Hakurei turnips were ready for harvesting and I pulled the batch above with more to harvest next week. These turnips are far superior to the Tokyo Cross variety I used to plant. The lavender Boro King radishes from Territorial were also ready, which was good because their foliage was shading the squash that is going to replace them. Note that one of them was white, not lavender. Also pulled  a few stragglers of Cherry Belle and Zlata.




I cut the kale to reduce its volume and allow my cucumbers some sun to get a start up the trellis. The kale went into Portuguese kale soup with some of the Hakurei turnips, half for dinner and half was frozen. Another Win-Win choi was harvested and used in a Asian-style slaw for the Fourth of July BBQ that was delayed until the 5th by the rain on Friday. The snow and snap peas are now starting to come in.




This a sampling of lettuces I have been picking from the Citypicker on the deck. I planted my lettuces in a self-watering container on the deck so I can pick them when I need them. The lettuces on the top are Jericho on left and Merlot on right. That is New Red Fire on the bottom. I also have my usual Buttercrunch but mistakenly planted it in the garden, so I have to drive 2 miles to harvest it.




The chard is finally mature and  producing well. The Orange Fantasia on the right obviously has some variability in its selection, with some white stems. That is Magenta Sunset on the left, not nearly as striking as it was in the Tower Hill Kitchen Garden last year. All of this and more was blanched and frozen.




More chard and some Green Wave mustard, plus more scapes. The chard and mustard was frozen.




Finally, Sunday I pulled some more of the Hakurei turnips that were throwing themselves out of the ground, just hanging on by the tap root. I guess they were telling me they were ready. I’m going to try freezing most of the snow peas. They will likely be used in a Thai curry or stir fry, so hopefully texture will not be an issue.


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

Friday, July 4, 2014

Back to Gardening



Last week I took a break from gardening and joined my siblings on an Erie canal trip on a chartered canal boat. The picture above shows our boat moored at Canal Park in the tiny village of Holley, New York, with the Holley Lift Bridge in the background. The trip celebrated my 70th birthday and the voyage our ancestor, Michael Velten, took in 1848 when he emigrated from Germany to Ohio via the Erie canal.


While we were gone, my son watered the garden and harvested my garlic scapes. When I got back, the garden was not only still alive but getting out of control. I spent several days taming the tomatoes, weeding and grooming. The only thing bolting was the Dragon Tongue mustard. The other lettuces and greens look good for awhile, but I harvested and froze a lot of greens.


Below is tomato Jaune Flamme which I started from seed, so I would like you to notice the extremely vigorous, healthy plants. The tomato truss in the photo has at least 10 tomatoes and others have as many as 12. They get 1.5-2” in diameter and have an orange color and supposedly terrific taste. Michelle has grown these for years and I am finally trying them and I have high expectations.




I again planted a couple of Juliet tomatoes, below, plants grown by my neighbor, Jem Mix. While Juliet is always the standard for gonzo, out of control tomatoes, this year they are being challenged by many of their neighbors in the garden. This shows a nice truss of 10+ tomatoes.




For example, below is Sunkist, another tomato I started from seed. Sunkist is an orange slicer with 8-10 ounce fruits developed by the University of New Hampshire and exclusive to High Mowing Seeds. The plants are stout and vigorous and already setting a lot of fruit but they don’t sucker as bad as Juliet.




Speaking of gonzo tomatoes, below are a couple of Blue Beech paste tomatoes from my neighbor, Jem Mix. I bought these from Jem because I killed my Opalka starts. That is why I am so proud of my Jaune Flamme, Esterina, and Sunkist plants, which are obviously hardy plants tolerant of a little spring time neglect. Blue Beech is a paste tomato collected from Blue Beech Farm in Danby, Vermont and sold by Fedco. Seeds originally came from Italy over 50 years ago. It should be well adapted to our crazy New England summers by now and will hopefully do better than my past trials with Roman Striped and Gilberties. While I was away, these guys suckered like crazy and it took a lot of time to clean out the mass of foliage to allow better air circulation.




Below is a truss of Blue Beech tomatoes already set. This is a 90-day tomato so hopefully we have a late Fall to let these guys fully ripen.




Another experiment this year is growing shallots from seed rather than bulbs. Last year I planted $20 worth of bulbs in the fall only to find every single one rotted over a tough winter. Below are my Saffron seed shallots looking pretty good. The shallot stems are thickening and looking like they are going to be putting energy into bulbs. This is just like growing onions from seed, each plant produces a single shallot bulb.




Some people didn’t return to the community garden this year, so some extra plots were available. I am splitting an additional plot with another gardener. Below is my half, planted to tomatoes and peppers, with a couple hills of summer squash. This allowed me to plant some heirloom tomatoes I wouldn’t have room for in the raised beds. Below are 4 Pineapple, 4 Brandywine, a Cherokee Purple, and another Sunkist.




So I am back and the garden is looking great. Today is July 4 and a traditional barbeque day. I have St. Louis-style ribs rubbed up and waiting for a chance to start a fire between the rain showers. A head of bok choy is going into an Asian-style slaw, which will get another large volume out of the refrigerator and make my wife happy. Probably no fireworks today because of the rain. Hope you have a great Fourth if you’re American, and otherwise have a great weekend.

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