Saturday, October 22, 2011

But Wait, There's More!

Just when you think the garden had given up its final ghost, you remember the sweet potatoes that are lurking under the row covers.  I had dug a sample from the sweet potato bed back when I dug my other spuds this fall, and the scrawny little roots left a lot to be desired.  So, I essentially wrote them off as a lost cause and not something I would plant again.

But Tuesday when I got home from work, I decided to dig the rest of them up.  Maybe, just maybe, there would be a sweet potato or two worth the labor.

Boy, was I mistaken!

It's hard to appreciate the harvest there in the wheel barrow.  I had planted just shy of a dozen slips, which were not in the best of shape when they arrived from Maine this spring.  My first sampling did not improve my impression of these veg, but when I stuck my spading fork in and forked up the first plant, I was shocked and amazed to see sweet potatoes of colossal size (pictures do not do them justice):

The harvest directions I found for sweet potatoes say to leave them out in the sun on a screen for a day or two after you dig them so their skins can harden, and then let them sit at about 80*F for a few days to continue developing tough skins for storage. Yeah, right.  It started to rain as I forked over the last bits of the garden, so I dumped the buckets of spuds into the wheel barrow and rolled the whole thing into the covered back porch, where they have sat all week as it rained and barely reached 50*F - forget 80.

Still, this was a nice surprise.  I wonder if really big sweet potatoes are woody and awful, like big radishes, or if size doesn't matter with taste and texture.  I guess the only way to know will be to cook 'em and have a taste.  Until then, I've decided that sweet potatoes may not be so bad to plant in the garden here after all.  I wonder how I save slips for next year...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Late Season Gifts

Just when you think you won't have any more tomatoes, despite the many green ones still clinging to the tomato plants, you get a week of warm weather, and your row covers add a touch more warmth, and voila! you are swamped with ripening tomatoes!  (The apple is just there for scale.)

I don't recall which variety this tomato is, but many of the bright yellow fruits (I know, they look orange here, but they are really yellow) are quite large, and unlike Brandywines, they don't split!

I decided to pull a few more carrots, too, this weekend, not that I had time to actually process them or anything.

This one was so big, and had such a grip on the soil, that I had to use the spading fork to dig it out - it wasn't going to let go on its own.

Neither was this one...or is that two?  Possibly three?

Most of these carrots are still in the bowl on my kitchen counter, with a damp paper towel draped over them to keep them from going limp.  A few (including Brutus, two pics up) were diced into a pot of chicken soup I made later that day to combat the cold I've been fighting for about a week now.

And just to prove that miracles do happen, here's what I saw yesterday afternoon:

Yes, that's Pumpkin on the left, and Idefix on the right.  Sleeping.  Together.  Unbelieveable.  No fur flying, no claws swiping, no hissing or spitting or growling.  Amazing.

Of course, later that night things reverted to normal, but now there is a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, these two will eventually get along.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Good Day for Gardening

 Things are winding down in the garden.  Or maybe that's falling down!  With all the winds and rains we've had lately, the 12' tall sunflowers have about had it, taking out the remaining pole beans in their descent.

 Frost was in the forecast for last night (already!!!), so I took the afternoon off and spent it at home putting row covers over the tomatoes and sweet potatoes.

 While I was out there, I tackled the weeds in one of the unused plots (that I just didn't get around to preparing last spring).  Once it was weeded, I figured I might as well move the soil over - better now than wait until next spring.

Doesn't it look lovely?  Now that I have a load of compost (leaves from the streets of Jackson) to add to the horrid "topsoil" I got this spring, I'm hoping I will have better growth next year.  It certainly seems to be nutritious compost, for the weeds are phenomenal on the pile!  I weeded a section before mixing it with the "topsoil" (the pale pile on the right), but both are so full of roots that I suspect this isn't the last I'll see of the weeds.  One bed done, four to go...and then I can work on fixing the beds I did this year.

 While working in the garden, I saw this fellow snoozing in the corn:

...and another in the sweet potatoes:

I just love these little frogs.  They are grey tree frogs.  I know what you are thinking:  grey?  They're green!  But, grey tree frogs have the wonderful ability to change their color.  Gotta love 'em. 

Meanwhile, as I was yanking out weeds, I disturbed not only this worm, but the mother spider who's also in this photo.  See the white thing?  That's her egg sac, which apparently VERY recently hatched since she was still attached to it.  And on her back are all her little ones (except for the few that were scuttling around on the soil).  

And here's a sweet potato flower...just in case you ever wondered what one looked like.

The sunflowers are about exhausted.  Bees still visit, but most of the blooming is done and now the seeds need to ripen.

Watching someone weed and haul soil is not very exciting.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September Goodness

Monday was labor day, and for many folks that's just a day off from work.  For me, well, it was a regular day off, by I put myself to work, laboring in the garden.  It was time to dig the spuds.

It's not been often this year that I have been impressed with the results of the garden, but the potatoes made me a believer.  Only two of the three varieties made it - the Adirondack Blues were mostly rotted before they went into the ground, but the German butterballs and purple vikings did great.

A whole bushel of spuds!!!

Just look at the size of this baby! 
I've never had German butterballs this big.

Some grew in some pretty interesting shapes.

  And just look at these purple vikings!

These have got to be the biggest potatoes I've ever seen!

Here we are, finally, all sorted by size or variety.

All spuds are now on the back porch curing.  This should toughen up their skins so they store better.  And now that I have an actual root cellar, I'm looking forward to seeing how the do beyond a regular basement.
I also dug up one of the sweet potatoes, but although the roots were awfully colorful, there was not a sweet potato to be seen.  Some of the roots had swellings that might've eventually become "potatoes," but they were too small to bother with now.  Bummer.  So, that vine is going to be composted and I will leave the rest in the ground for a few more weeks in hopes that they will mature.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Here's Why I Want Chickens and Pigs

(Thanks to Jenna at Cold Antler Farm for posting this - I, too, love this ad.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Talkin' Chickens

For several years now I've wanted to keep chickens.  The idea of having fresh eggs available right out the back door is very appealing.  And with backyard-chicken-keeping being the latest craze, it is easy to get sucked into the whole process.

So, what is stopping me?

First, I didn't have a place where I could keep chickens (zoning).  Now I live in farm country and have neighbors with chickens.  That excuse is no longer valid.

Then there's the set-up:  I don't have a coop.  I'd have to purchase or build something.  Funds are getting low, and I don't really have carpentry skills.  This is not a huge hold up, but something to consider.

I've worked at places where we raised chickens.  They aren't all fluffy, friendly, funny little birds.  Some are aggressive, some are henpecked.  There are diseases, parasites, and predators.

Would I raise 'em just for eggs, or would I also do meat birds?  Would I have the guts to slaughter 'em myself (I've been involved with chicken processing, but never had to wield the axe), or would I pay to have someone else do it?  Then there's the winter care of the birds.

When one really puts one's mind to it, one begins to have doubts.  Still, I really do like the idea of providing my own eggs and meat.  It's one less thing I need to purchase from someone else, and I'd know how the animals are raised and cared for.

"They" say that chickens are the easiest of the livestock animals to raise.  Maybe I could just start out with some meat birds...they only hang around for a few months before it's time to do 'em in.  Less of a commitment.  Something to think about.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Stuff from the Garden

Ah, now there's a thing of beauty:  my first EVER real ear of corn from my own garden!

I was so tickled when I saw an ear large enough to pick that I had to look for more - I found four.  Admittedly, a couple were really only nibblets, but oh, they were good!

So this is Sunday's harvest:  four ears of corn, two cukes, two tomatoes, two carrots, and a large double handful of beans.

Oh, yes, and the onions.  There they are - four very small, sad braids of onions.  All that is left of the nearly 100 that I planted, and, as you can see, only two or three of any size worth mentioning.  I've been told that perhaps I planted them too late - onions are apparently a light sensitive plant and since they can tolerate the cold, I should plant them in April.  I've never had problems before, but I'm living further south now than my beloved mountains, so I guess my garden will take some rethinking.

On a whim last night I decided to dig a potato plant.  It had two large spuds attached, so I dug a couple more - not so robust.  Stilll, I am optimistic for a good harvest of potatoes later in the season.  

And, yes, those are carrots.  I thinned out the patch a little bit last night.  The greens are all so very tall and bushy, but I know that since I don't thin, the roots will be small and sorry.  It's a bad habit of mine.  Every year I tell myself that next year I will thin...I never do. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Harvest Time!

The pea harvest was a bust, and the beans are not certainly not going to cause the freezer to overflow (after four harvests, I now have enough to bother getting out the blanching kettle and freezing 'em), but last night I rejoiced with my harvest:

My first two tomatoes finally ripened, and I picked my second cucumber!  For those who might be wondering what is wrong with that cuke (because it is rather pale), it is a variety called Boothby's Blonde, which produces small, pale cukes that have a nice light flavor.  There's nothing bitter about these babies.

I'm also very excited about this:

It may be only an ear of corn, but I've never had luck with corn.  This year I got the corn in late, and then it was dry as a bone, followed by torrential rains.  The cornstalks maybe reach four feet tall at the most - I didn't have high hopes.  So I am just tickled pink that there are several ears forming, and they are already several inches long!

My squash have been going great guns, too.  It seems that this is squash country, for everyone raves about how well squash do here.

 Now, perhaps you are wondering why I would harvest such a small onion (see first photo).  I didn't.  Well, I did, but not intentionally - it came up with the weeds.  But take a look at that sorry-looking onion patch:

What started out with such promise has completely fizzled.  I don't understand it.  The only thing I can think is that when it rains, the "soil" (and I use the term loosely) turns into a very clay-like slurry.  Perhaps the plants just couldn't handle the heavy rains.  It could also have been the long hot dry spell, but I did water the garden almost every evening.  Could something be getting into the garden and trampling the onions and pulling them out (many are MIA)?  I just don't know.  It will be interesting to see if any potatoes are produced come digging time - they are in the same soil as the onions.

The dill, while short, is doing nicely.  I don't plant dill for pickling - in fact, I can't even stand the smell of dill.  I plant it for the butterflies, but so far not one has taken up residence on any of the plants.  Next year I will do parsley and fennel - the butterflies like these, too.

Despite a shaky start, the sweet potatoes seem to have recovered and are sending out tendrils all across their section of the garden.  I'm very excited about these - I've never grown sweet potatoes before.

This final photo is here merely for comparison.  Two days ago I took a nearly identical photograph of Toby walking by the sunflowers.  Last night I noticed that the sunflowers were at least a foot taller than they were two days ago (see yesterday's post).  Amazing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Ugh - it has been SOOOOO hot and humid all of July - and so far August seems to be going the same way.  To say it's been Guamish would be an insult to Guam - it has simply been miserable outside.  Ugh.  Bleh.  

And, despite the ridiculously high humidity, it has been dry!  No rain to speak of...until about a week ago, when we got over 4" in less than 24 hours (although just north about 10 miles, in Waterloo, they got over 7" from the same storms).  The heavy rains and gusting winds did a number on the corn, although it has mostly recovered now.  See the tassels?  I'm very excited that I might, for the first time, get corn from my garden!

Now, these photos are hazy for two reasons.  One, the air was hazy, thanks to the humidity.  Two, my camera was hazy, thanks to the heat and humidity.  The camera had been in the cool house (ahhh - geothermal cooling!), and when it hit the outside air, it fogged right up.  Grrrr.

I'd already given up the peas as a lost cause this year, and although I'm now harvesting beans, so far it is a minuscule harvest.  I checked the beans at my plot at work yesterday, and not a single plant was to be seen!  Something either ate them (I've heard rumors of a rogue woodchuck), or the heat and drought did them in.  All that remains of my community garden plot are the trellises I made and the sunflowers.

Meanwhile, some of the community gardeners have brought us tomato hornworms for the office.  These are caterpillars of the five-spotted hawk moth, and they wreak havoc on tomato plants.  I'd never seen one before, so I marveled at their size and beautiful markings...until I found them on MY tomato plants at home!  Fortunately, two of the three I found looked like this:

Those white "things" on the caterpillar's back are cocoons of the pupating larvae of braconid wasp.  Hooray!  These parasitic wasps are hate gardener's friend.  The wasp comes buzzing along and lays her eggs on/in the caterpillar.  The wasp larvae hatch and begin to digest the inside of their host.  When they get ready to pupate, the unfortunate caterpillar is beyond redemption.  It will soon perish while the young wasps reach adulthood safe inside their white cocoons.  When pupation is complete, the new wasps emerge and the cycle continues.  If you find a hornworm that is covered with pupal cases, leave it on your tomatoes, for it will die, but the wasps will hatch and spread through your garden, looking for more hornworms to parasitize.  They are the gardener's friend.

I also found this strangely shaped "grasshopper" in the garden:

Here is a close-up of the head:

This, my friends, is one of the coneheaded katydids (the only other time I've seen a conehead was in the Amazon rainforest).  How bizarre is it!?!  This one is a female, as one can tell by noting the long ovipositor she is sporting (see the first photo).  Based on the range maps in my new grasshopper ID book, I'm thinking this is either a robust conehead, or a sword-bearing conehead.  Robust coneheads are the largest of the coneheads, and the female's ovipositor is 1-1.1 times the length of the hind femur.  Hm...this might just be a robust - that ovipositor is pretty darn long. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hooray for Worms!

Well, there it is, my pile of "quality topsoil."  Doesn't it look oh so impressive, with its crown of sprouted weeds?  Weeds are about the only thing growing well in in.  With the lack of rain we've had, the "topsoil" is a hard, crusty pile of clay and sand, no better than the hardpan in which my garden is laid out.

So, I took the advice of the garden educator at work and went to Brooklyn for worm dirt.  That's Brooklyn, Michigan, not NYC.  For $1.99/bag, one can take home some quality worm castings, and might even get a few worms to boot.

I bought ten bags. I figured the garden needed all the help it could get.  The first eight bags were loaded with gigantic worms - I think the girls who sort the worms out of the "dirt" were having an off day.  The worms are raised for fish bait, and the business sells the castings on the side.  Must be they were tired of sorting worms, or it was the end of the day, for I must've had several dozen nightcrawlers in my bags.  Not that I'm complaining!  My soil can use all the help it can get!  Although I do feel a bit badly for the worms - they have gone from posh accommodations to the Bowery.

Each bed got a topcoat of worm dirt,

while the squash and sweet potatoes got an extra dose.  I figured anything that is a heavy feeder was going to need all the help I could provide.

My joy at having beautiful, CPB-free potatoes was short-lived.  I found a couple potato beetles a couple weeks ago, and now my spuds are COVERED with the larvae.  >sigh<  So, every night now I don my gloves and attack, squishing larvae left and right.  I don't mind the little ones, but the large larvae, well, they are just disgusting to squish.  My gloves are soon soaked with larvae innards.  Still, this is probably the only way to combat these insects.  According to Lisa, the garden educator at work, it does work over time.  She was telling me this weekend how after three years of squishing larvae daily, she's gone from potatoes totally covered with the vile things to potatoes with only a smattering of 'em.  

Saturday morning I spent some time at the community gardens, putting up the rest of my trellising and picking my harvest (more on that in a moment).  The previous week I'd trellised the peas (which, thanks to the lack of rain, really didn't need it) and put black plastic down on the remaining half of my plot that I never planted (no time).  This day I trellised the pole beans.

My plot, however, is not worth photographing - not unless one is doing an expose on horrid veg gardens.  The other gardeners, however, have done some truly lovely work.  Many of the plots are regular works of art, and full of veg already.

And here is my harvest:

 Yep - there may be a whole dozen pea pods there.  The largest of them is about the size of my pinky finger.  Got a whole quarter-cup of peas out of 'em.  Toby enjoyed them for yesterday's breakfast.