Friday, November 25, 2011

2011 - First Year Summary

Garden idea was born in March.
Robert was especially eager,
while Robin was quite reluctant.
(Said she has a purple thumb.)

Robert persuaded her to give it a try.
Robin's friend, Gayle, suggested the horse trough method.
We found the "recipe" at Mary Jane's farm on the internet.
Robert voted YES!

Sun we have,
but no level ground,
no well or city water.
Our water drains from the roof tops
into cisterns when it rains.
Deer love our property
and we enjoy them.

Fence? Must be deer proof.
Water? Must have more cisterns.

Horse trough? Good for senior backs.
Good for limited water supply.

Garden was engineered by Robert,
who admittedly didn't think much beyond
getting it built, the fence up,
followed by good mix of soils,
which was accomplished by 
May 1st.

Despite early reluctance,
Robin took over then,
planting, tending, harvesting, cooking.
Robert top watered new plants
until roots were established and long enough
to draw from the reservoirs.

Harvest was grand,
vastly exceeding our expectations.
We ate fresh veggies all summer
and had surplus to give to friends and neighbors.

The horse trough method
works well for our purposes.
The 3' high troughs are easy to tend
and the water use seems minimal.
All the crops prospered with full sun
warming the dirt in the troughs.

We planted winter crops
mid-August and early September.
As of today, Nov. 25, they've survived
three days/nights of below freezing temps,
winds gusting over 60 mph,
and monsoon rains.

We're amazed!
And needless to say,
we will be gardening again next year,
building on experiences this year,
hoping it wasn't just beginner's luck!

Winter Crops Survive Harsh Weather Conditions

We started planting winter crop seeds in mid-August and followed up with starts the first week of September. Kale, various types of lettuce, beets, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, and two types of broccoli were in the ground by Sept. 5th. Some were organic starts bought at the local hardware store, and some were from seeds. Below are some pictures taken late September.

Below is a lettuce harvest from Nov. 9th. We'd already had some major rain and wind, yet the lettuce kept producing nicely. Rather than harvest whole heads, Robin cuts off leaves from the outer edges. Several days later the plants are ready to supply us with more salad fodder!

The third week in November through Thanksgiving was tough weather. We had three days/nights below freezing, monsoon rains, and a couple of days with winds gusting over 60 mph. While we were toasty warm inside with the wood stove well stoked, we wondered how the garden was doing.

Today, while the sun was out (briefly) and the wind was blowing somewhere else on the planet, Robin checked on the garden and took the pictures below.

Obviously the wind was a little hard on the chard and lettuce, but by and large the plants survived remarkably well. Amazing!

Robin harvested a few of the beets (still rather small) and examined the carrots (quite small). Perhaps these two crops, both from seed, should be planted earlier, say early August, next year.

Aphids Parade on Our Veggies

It was beginner's luck, maybe, to have had such fabulous results our first year of gardening, every plant producing edibles, growing well and long. But, lest there be envy, we certainly had our share of insect infestations.

The first was a seemingly overnight explosion of aphids feasting on our kale the first week in September, making a terrible, sticky, yucky mess. We cut off nearly the whole top on a couple of our plants (hastily taken to the burn pile) and then started treating what remained with the two different products shown below.

Since the pepper spray didn't seem to help much, we mostly used the other one. In a few weeks, we didn't see aphids any more.

Then, in mid-September we planted our winter harvest crops. Soon after the plants got to a viable size, we noticed they were being eaten. We never saw the culprits, though we suspect earwigs or the like. We probably should have sprayed the plants.

Now, today, surveying the winter crops after a weeks of particularly harsh weather, Robin noticed a new aphid colony on one of the broccoli plants. Spray to the rescue, we hope, before they spread.

We have sympathy for commercial organic gardeners. It's disconcerting to suddenly find holes in all the spinach leaves or a broccoli leaf crawling with aphids.

How to Turn Green Tomatoes into Red Tomatoes!

Looking back to the end of August, we wondered then if the tomatoes would ever ripen. We'd had one ripe cherry tomato... ONE. So we did a little internet research and found a garden blog that advocated removing ALL the foliage plus any remaining flowers from the tomato plant, so that it would think "Uh-oh, doomsday, I gotta get ripe and make seeds right NOW!" We decided to try it.

Here are the cherry and roma tomatoes stripped of their greenery. Robin took the clippers to them on Sept. 5th.

Already by Sept. 15th we were seeing a trend toward rouge on the cherry toms.

By Oct. 15th, 5 weeks after the surgery, both types were producing yummy, sweet, RED fruit, especially the cherry toms, which were yielding a tub like this every couple of days. We gave away lots, ate lots and Robin roasted then froze lots more. We never dreamed one small plant would produce so many tomatoes, maybe 6-700 hundred in all! The romas did OK too, but the main harvest was later in Oct. I can't find the blog where we learned of this drastic pruning method, but it totally works and we appreciate the guy writing about it!

Two tomato plants was definitely enough for us. Next year, maybe we'll skip the romas and plant one cherry tomato plant in one of the round buckets. Maybe we'll plant carrots around the tomato plant, as suggested in one of the books I've read (Carrots Love Tomatoes).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Green Frog Report - Our September Garden Guests

I've lived on this property for 22 years and never have I seen so many green tree frogs as this year. We first noticed them in July (see this post) and by September, they were everywhere... in Robin's flower planter, on the deck, and most of all in the garden. Every time one of us watered, they'd jump from some hiding spot, launching themselves out of the trough. Not to worry. The next day they'd be back.

Robin looked up the symbolic meanings of frogs. Of the many, the one she likes best is the idea of transitions, especially toward greater spirituality. One early evening, she was watching one on the deck railing and suddenly it shot a great geyser of pee out it rear end, making a sizable puddle. A few moments later, it made the most amazing arabesque, sailing off the railing and making a perfect landing six feet away on the narrow leaf of a hellebore in her planter.

Now it's November and we haven't seen any sign of them all month. They're off transitioning, I guess. We miss them.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Harvest Report - Carrots, Kale, Potatoes


We're getting lots of carrots now, full of flavor, not like the grocery store variety that mostly taste like cardboard. (The breakfast radishes are also doing well, adding spice to our salads. They're a tad "hotter" than the standard radishes.)

Here are some interesting carrot observations:

1. You can't tell how big it will be by the size of its topper.

2. A few of our carrots seem to have run into something in the dirt. Since there are no rocks, it must be bits of bark or other stuff in the compost mix. Stunted as they are, these carrots are still tasty.

3. Something's amiss. We wondered about underground insects, but on looking up carrot problems, we found that it's most likely due to over or under watering. Since only a couple of our carrots have this problem, we're not going to change anything. And, after cutting away the affected parts, even these carrots were tasty.


The kale is such an unexpected pleasure. Neither of us had eaten kale previously. Now Robin stir-fries it, puts it in soups, and makes a fantastic massaged kale salad with apples and Gorgonzola cheese. She also likes how it looks in the garden, like dark, intensely green fountains spraying over the edge of the horse troughs.


We harvested the second gunny sack of potatoes. Disappointment! We expected potatoes at all levels in the 50 or so inches of dirt. That didn't happen. Robin dug and dug... and dug...a ton o' dirt... all the way to the first 6" of dirt, the initial planting level. There she found potatoes, a modest single-level harvest of reasonably-sized spuds. Next year, we'll forget the gunny sacks, plant near the top of 8 or so inches of dirt, and cover with leaves or straw as the plants grow.. So much for gunny sacks!

Garden Shed

Ever since May, when we carried out squash and tomato starts every day, trying to remember to bring them inside at night, trying to keep track of how much time they were outside, all the while wondering if they were sufficiently hardened to plant... ever since then, I wanted to build a garden shed-greenhouse.

Finally that dream is a reality! Only 8 x 6 feet, with a 4' deck, it will serve our needs well. With a big, south-facing window and glass-pane door, there should be plenty of early spring warmth for seedlings to thrive. Plus, we have a storage space for garden tools and supplies.

A local builder, Larry Nave, did the lion's share of the building. We're pleased with his work! Robin and I did the clean-up, shopping, painting, and inside shelving. Now the garden seems complete, unless or until we decide to add a couple more troughs. Although, with four troughs, we have had ample food for ourselves and quite a lot to give away.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Harvesting Spuds + First Ripe Tomato!

Today was a big harvest day, above average zucchini yield (about 3 pounds), plus we decided to dig into the first gunny sack we planted with potatoes and see what we got.

Here's how it looked on day 1, potato planting day, which was around the 1st of May.

After 2 weeks, we had some leaves showing.

After a couple more weeks, we were ready to start unrolling the sack so we could add more dirt.

We did two batches of gunny sack potatoes. For the first we used an old sack I'd been storing in the garage for a long time. In that one, we planted fingerling potatoes and a few Yukon golds. For the second batch, we used a brand new gunny sack and planted bakers. About the second time we unfolded the old sack to add more dirt, it began to fall apart, rotting. Therefore, we were never able to fill it as per the plan.

Today, Robin decided to see and harvest whatever was produced in the three layers of dirt. The other sack is still going strong, filled to the brim and not yet dying off.

Here's what we got.  And see that one little cherry tomato?  It's our first ripe tomato!!! Sweet as can be! We ate some of the fingerlings for dinner tonight. Delicious!!!

Here's what we learned. Don't use old gunny sacks for growing potatoes. We stopped watering when the tops started to bloom. We think it would be better to keep watering them until the tops turn yellow and collapse. There were more than 50 potatoes about the size of a pea or slightly larger, willing and able to grow into something big enough to eat. It's all an experiment for us. One thing to try next year is to plant the spuds with a little more dirt beneath them. Maybe not watering, but waiting longer to harvest would be a good thing too. We'll do it a little differently with the other sack and see how that goes.

Here's our one ripe tomato.  More on the way soon. Lots more!

And here is the still unharvested gunny sack; only now it's totally unrolled, filled with dirt all the way to the top. What does it hold? How many spuds will we get? Keep tuned for the answer to that one...