Thursday, July 5, 2012

First Radish and Lettuce Harvests of the Year!

We're behind on posting, but do have pictures from the spring planting and first harvests...  Time to catch up a bit!

Three types of radishes, from seeds, harvested June 19th.
Left: Cherry Bell; Center: French Breakfast; Right: Amethyst Hybrid.
French Breakfast were old seeds and most didn't grow.

We planted earlier this year, mid-April (rather than last year's late-May), which means we're already harvesting lettuces, radishes, spinach and kale, despite more rain and cooler temps than usual this spring.

Back-track to the end of April...

Lettuce starts, April 27th

We purchased lettuce starts (three types this year) from Brown's nursery in mid-April.We'll be feasting on fresh, home-grown lettuce all during May, June and into July.

The weather turned really nasty right after planting our starts this year, so Robin bought paper cups (waxed), cut the bottoms off, and squished them into the dirt like collars around each of the starts. Our hope was to protect the starts from the harsh spring winds and super cold night temps. Mixed reviews about the cup strategy... the starts might have done fine without them and getting them out of the dirt a month later was tricky, as the dirt stuck to the cups and disturbed the plant roots during the removal process. Plan for next year? Plant the starts a few weeks later and forget the cups.

Spinach, lettuce and beets, April 27th

We also planted spinach starts at the same time, and were eating baby spinach greens by early May. The spinach started to go to seed in June, needing to be removed by the end of June. We had a lot of tasty spinach from one little flat of starts for about $2.00!

Three types of lettuce, plus kale, harvested on June 19th

We started radishes, beets, kale and carrots from seed, all planted directly in the troughs at the end of April, except for the carrots, which weren't planted until the night temps were higher (early June). All are doing well. The lettuce & kale harvest above was on June 19th.

Zucchini and tomato starts in the garden shed.

Robin bought zucchini and tomato starts (from the grocery store) at the end of March. We kept them in our garden shed, re-potting them on May 4th as they got too big for the 3" pots. We planted them outside in the garden at the end of May.

Installing Lunnette's sign above the garden shed door.

Robin's friend, Lunnette, painted a beautiful sign for the garden shed, which as you can see, I promptly installed! Now the garden shed is complete.

Garden art!

Oh, one more thing, new this year! Anyone who knows me, will certainly peg me as a collector of rust. Some time I'll post pictures of a few of my favorites. This spring, my friend, Rick Waldron, unearthed a gloriously rusted farm implement on his property. Now it's my new "garden art!"

I'll write another post, later, about our potatoes.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Potatoes Are Planted

Last year we planted potatoes in gunny sacks, to which we continued to add layers of dirt as the plants grew, about 24 inches of added dirt altogether. We expected to harvest potatoes at all levels. Didn't happen. They grew small and only at the bottom level.

So this year, on Feb. 15th (as I recall), we planted in tubs. We put rocks in the bottom of the tubs, covered with about 12 inches of dirt. We placed the spuds, sprouts facing upward, about 3 or 4 inches apart, and covered them with about 5 more inches of dirt.

We were advised to test the soil for phosphate levels, but didn't do it this year. It's a trial and error learning experience, eh?

Our remaining winter crops, broccoli and kale, are both doing well. We harvest the kale often, as Robin likes to put it in salads, stews, and soups.

The purple crown broccoli seems nearly ready to harvest. We're not sure why some of it has this yellowish color. Have to do some internet research on this one.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Amazing Survival Comparison

The snow is gone now, along with the below freezing temps. After nearly a week of all white, about 8 inches of it, and temps down to 15 degrees, we're ready for balmy 35 with wind and rain: typical Northwet. Time to check for damages with before and after pictures.

What survived the Arctic blast and what did not?


Yes! (not such a Pansy after all)


Yes! Kale and broccoli looking good.


Oh no! 3,000 gallons of next summer's water became
the new Cistern Creek in one mighty crack.

Ooops, two mighty cracks.
The other one, the little dripper, has to be replaced as well.

Hacksaw, new 2-inch, brass, gate valves, new PVC, iron pipe and a few hours of labor, and we can start the water collection process again. #1's system got fixed today and the remaining water in the #2 cistern transferred to #1.  Next: fix #2.  After that: figure out a way to prevent this from happening again!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

First Snow of 2012

Knowing winter was finally going to show it's white face, Robin got out in the garden earlier this week to harvest all the remaining lettuce, beets and chard. We have a goodly supply in the refrigerator. The chard was especially tasty, steamed (with slivered almonds and cranberries added at the last moment) and served generously buttered.

She also buffered the stems and roots of the broccoli and kale with loose straw. That may be a good thing, as we have a week or more of snow showers and temperatures below freezing in the forecast.

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).