Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Planting bush beans--still learning

I tried to start a row of bush beans a few weeks ago. Every single bean failed to germinate. I'm sure I didn't know it was going to be so hot that week. If I remember correctly the temperatures were in the upper 90s and they were in full sun. I know now that I just didn't keep them watered enough and the moisture was evaporating so fast out of that upper layer of soil that the seeds had no chance. You would think I would have learned how to water seedlings by now?!

A few days ago, Daniel gave it another try. This time he planted 3 rows and then covered them with a layer of wheat straw to help prevent moisture loss. Lots of the beans have already sprouted. Hopefully we will have a big late harvest of green beans in September.
The lilies pictured below were planted in the yard when we got here. Daniel transplanted them to a nice spot near the vegetables and they are a joy to walk by while out checking on the garden.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Squash harvest, recipe idea, and question

Daniel brought in these beautiful squash this week. There are 6 butternut that are 1 1/2 to 2 pounds each and 2 trombone squash that are about 2 1/2 pounds each. I haven't decided what to do with the trombone squash but I need to figure it out fast because these are just the first 2 of many to come:) I've read different things about them. Apparently they can be cooked like a summer squash and, if cured, can be stored like a winter squash. I'll post more when I figure that out...anybody ever grown these?

I have several butternut squash soup recipes but I wanted to do something with them besides that this week since the heat index has been in the 100s and we certainly don't need to be warmed any more by soup in the evening! I found this great recipe for mashed potatoes that included butternut squash. I got the idea from a cookbook called 50 Best Mashed Potatoes

Basically all you do is make mashed potatoes as normal (boiling potatoes and adding butter, milk, and seasonings) but use butternut squash in place of about half of the potatoes. The recipe says to bake the squash but I boiled it.

1 butternut squash (1-2 lbs) pealed and cubed
1-2 pounds potatoes cubed
butter and milk (I used plain almond milk and a little bit of soy sour cream) to taste
seasonings -- I use salt, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, and fresh pepper

Boil potatoes and squash until tender. Mash together. Add liquid and seasonings. Enjoy!

Please respond with your favorite way to cook squash.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Compost: Orientation

Imagine that someone walked into your kitchen, compiled a miscellany of ingredients, dumped them in a bowl, stirred once, let it sit, and then proclaimed that they had produced food. Would they be correct? Well, it depends on our food standards. Is it edible? Probably. Is it better than nothing? Absolutely. But wouldn’t we wonder why the individual hadn’t composed with more care? Examples can be multiplied but without need. While many of us would eat such a product were it all we had, and be thankful for needs met, we’d all rather eat the stuff that was produced with care and energy. It is care that makes food good. It is care that produces the order and value we find in recipes, instruments, and ingredients in the kitchen so productive of good food. If such is not the case, then there must be good where there is no care. But such is not the case.

Now, there are two kinds of cared for things. There are the things which receive their care naturally or from within the natural order, and there are things which receive their care artificially or by art. While avocado receives its care from the tree that also may receive its care from the sun, rain, and earth, guacamole receives its care by art.

What can we deduce from the fact that something needs care? At least four things can be deduced: First, care is only necessary for a being for which things can go better or worse. So, if compost needs care, it is because it is something for which things can go better or worse. From this knowledge we infer that there is hierarchy or scale. Measurement is implicit in the terms “better” and “worse”. At the top of any scale we find flourishing or perfection, and as we approach the bottom we meet the descending conditions of barely adequate, inadequate, and failing.
Second, that something requires care means that there is knowledge to be gained about the cared for object. At his trial, reported by Plato in the Apology, Socrates famously asks his accuser whether the many or the expert is best suited to care for horses. The answer is obvious. The expert is so suited because of his knowledge. Minimally one must know what brings the object of care into a state of either flourishing or failing. Otherwise care will only happen fortuitously, and it certainly can’t be expected. So, let’s recognize that where there is knowledge to be had ignorance is a possibility. The overcoming of ignorance is a part of proper care.
Third, if compost can be in better or worse conditions then it must be of a certain nature. It is its nature, and our familiarity with its nature, which our knowledge will be about. Recognition that compost has a nature allows one to approach composting with the expectation of being confronted by “the other”, something which will resist us if mistreated, and something for which we must at least be ready to conform ourselves to if we are to be in relation to it. Compost can be managed and cared for, but it cannot be molded into whatever. It will resist. This is because it, like other things of the same sort, has a nature.
Last, care is a good, because it brings its object into good condition and makes its work good. And where there is good to be brought about virtue is required that it might be realized in the right way and to the fullest extent. The virtues of prudence, temperance, and their children consistency, open-mindedness, patience, and many others are no more expendable where care is required than the object of care itself. Often it is not knowledge of what care requires that is lacking but virtue. We notice this often where knowledge is plentiful and yet what is known is not sufficient to bring about flourishing.
And isn’t this the heaviest introduction to compost? Does it not weigh more than it is worth? By no means. It has not been said that compost requires tons of care or tons of knowledge. In fact, much of the work is done by partners who work for what we would consider very little. I speak loosely but lovingly of microbes and micro-arthropods. But unless our attitude and orientation are fixed properly in the beginning we will be under the illusion that compost will produce on its own what can only be brought about in proportion to care. Any home economy has a hierarchy of care distributed by those who govern it. Once integrated well into a home economy, which requires wisdom, compost will thrive and contribute what it can to the health of that which it influences. In the next posts I will cover separately ingredients, tools, and methods. Come back, check in, and if my knowledge is deficient, my methods vicious, or my care wanting, by all means improve me! But first, before discussing technique, materials, and ingredients, let’s remember what brings it all together and makes it good: CARE.
Picture of one of our backyard garden harvests this week.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Two corrections

Daniel reminded me that we did cover the garlic over the winter.

Also realized that the garlic will probably last longer than a month. We only use a few cloves a day and so those 33 bulbs plus a few that are still in the ground will last a lot longer than a month.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Garlic Harvest

We braided 33 bulbs (4 pounds) of garlic this weekend.

Garlic is such a great crop--it doesn't require much care and does well in our sandy soil. We bought the garlic seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange last year and planted the cloves back in November. It grew when hardly anything else would grow all winter with no protection. When its stems started to die and fall over a few weeks ago we knew it was time to harvest. After pulling them out of the ground we set them out in a cool dry place on an old window screen so they could dry out completely. Now I've got them hanging in the kitchen and we will be using them almost daily for the nest month or so.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Our Garden Today

This is a picture of our main garden taken from the bottom of the yard. We are growing potatoes, onions, garlic, brussels sprouts, and cabbage, broccoli, turnips, collards, swiss chard, and kale--all left over from our Spring garden. The summer vegetables got a later start this year because we gave a lot of space to that Spring garden. The summer veggies that we are growing are 4 kinds of squash (yellow, zucchini, butternut, trombone), pole beans, 3 varieties of tomatoes (cherry and slicing), eggplant, okra, sweet potatoes, and cucumber. Our herbs are basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, sage, and mint. The perennial vegetables we are trying this year are taro, Jerusalem artichoke, and asparagus. We also have figs, blueberries, wild blackberries, and loquat trees. In addition, we are nursing 1 peach tree and 2 apple trees back to life after being neglected by the previous owner.

Here's a blurry picture of our harvest from this week.
* 3 pounds collards
* 3.5 pounds kale
* 11 pounds potatoes
* 4 pounds bok choi
* 14 ounces chard
* 1.5 pounds beets

This is our first experience with multiplier onions and we are very happy with their success. We began harvesting them last week and they are curing in the shed now.

These beets are another vegetable that we've grown successfully for the first time this year.

Our one gardenia bush is blooming in the front yard. I love to bring one flower inside and let its scent fill the entire house.

Several different lilies are blooming around the yard. Daniel moved these to spread them out among the blueberries.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Leafy Green Meal Plan

It has been a fun challenge to figure out how to fit all these greens that we have been growing into our meals. To begin with, I wash and rinse greens every day and that is quite a process. I've learned that taking the rib out of collards, kale and turnips make them a lot easier to eat--especially for the girls. Another thing I've figured out is that it is more efficient to go ahead and prepare all of the greens at once. For example, in the past I would only wash the kale that I would be using for the specific meal. Now if I wash and trim all 2 pounds at once then dinner prep is quick and we have left over greens that we can eat the next day.

So this is how I do it now. First I cut out the rib if necessary. Then I let them soak in a sink of cold water for about 10 minutes. Then depending how dirty the leaves are I might do that again. I then take them out (inspecting for bugs on each leaf since I am neurotic about not eating bugs) and dry them in the salad spinner. Then I bag them in a clean bag so they are ready for the meal.

I've never really cooked with bok choi before this year. I've found that the stalks can be used just like celery. I chop them up and add them to salads, sandwiches and cold salads like potato salad and chick pea salad.  If you are going to cook them with the leaves then they need to cook about twice as long (cook ribs 3 min. then add leaves for another 3).

Here's a meal plan for a typical week during this season:

Sunday--Spicy Chick Pea dish and salad
Monday--Tofu and sauteed kale lasagna and salad
Tuesday--Burritos with black beans, rice, sauteed collards, olives, avocados, salsa and vegan sour cream on top
Wednesday--Harvest bowl with cornbread, leftover black beans, mashed potatoes and turnips, and avocado.
Thursday--Coconut milk and curry stir fry with tofu, bok choi, mushrooms and salad
Friday--Cashew cheese macaroni with sauteed swish chard
Saturday--Cold chick pea salad sandwiches

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Watering your summer garden

Summer Gardening

Water is one of the most important components in a healthy garden. Water is critical for plant growth as well as for the broader soil community. And, fluctuations in moisture levels in the soil can cause real problems for garden plants. So, as gardeners interested in maximizing garden potential we ought to reflect on how to water and what we can do to preserve water in the soil.

I can’t emphasize enough what volatility in soil moisture will do to plant growth. Garden plants, with a few exceptions, do best with consistent levels of moisture in the soil. Extremes are to be avoided. Consistent moisture becomes harder to maintain in the scathing summer sun. Some evidence suggests that plants have various “modes”: growth mode, fruiting mode, and yes believe it or not survival mode. A plant will enter survival mode when it encounters conditions antithetical to growth or fruiting. If the plant is growing it may stop, once stunted it may recover after much effort, but may also remain stunted throughout the summer. If fruiting a plant may drop fruit prematurely in order to conserve energy when entering survival mode. The plant then must pour much energy and resource just to switching back into growth and fruiting modes thus delaying harvest. We want to keep our plants growing consistently and steadily and one of the greatest threats to such growth is volatility in moisture levels. If a plant begins to struggles to live it will attracts diseases and pests. Once weakened, the garden buzzards are waiting to pounce.

Remember this: we gardeners can be a thrifty bunch. That’s why many of us garden. But, one can’t be thrifty with garden plants. They will demand proper conditions or refuse to perform optimally. Below are a few reminders for maintaining consistent moisture levels in your garden soil. If you have other ideas that have worked well we’d love to hear them. Send us a note:

  1.  Soil rich in compost holds much more water than sandy soils. If your soil is sandy consider adding a supply of compost. Here in Columbia the city sells compost from the yard waste it collects in town. This compost can be bought in much larger quantities for much cheaper prices than conventional stores. Check to see if large cheap quantities are available in your area. Rich soil is certainly the best preventative measure.
  2. Mulch: Hardwood mulch is excellent for preserving moisture in the soil. But, wood chips decompose slowly. Some argue that the fungal decomposition that wood chips require actually removes nitrogen and other resources from the soil. So, we don’t recommend putting wood chips in the garden soil although we have read reports of people applying it topically with some success. But, if you have fixed beds hardwood mulch makes a great cover for paths. I dump it in large shovel-fulls around the beds and anywhere I will be walking. The mulch then provides water retention and slowly decomposes enriching the surrounding soil. I’ve noticed red wigglers live in hardwood mulch rather readily especially if there is easier decomposing material nearby. Also, mulch is free for us. We have a good relationship with a tree trimmer who, after a quick call, will be by to dump a huge load of mulch in our driveway. Free is great. If your interested in wood mulch call a tree trimmer. They generally have to pay to dispose of wood chips. They may be happy to drop it off to you instead.
  3. Wheat straw/hay: Wheat straw is a wonderful cover for garden plants. It shades the soil and can be placed right around stems. We buy wheat straw bales from Lowes/Home Depot type stores, strap it to the roof of our car and store it in the backyard. Wheat straw is useful to have for vermicompost and compost bins as well. The only caution with wheat straw is that it attracts pill bugs, crickets, and slugs. Slugs can do a load of damage if their populations get out of control. But if you find you can’t water enough in the summer try a bale of wheat straw and shake a nice six inch layer of straw around mature garden plants.
  4. Take advantage of vining plants with large leaves. American Indians are reputed to have grown squash around their corn in order to provide moisture protection and take advantage of otherwise unusable space. If you are growing watermelon, sweet potatoes, vining squash, etc. in a compact urban garden direct those vines in between other taller plants and allow their large broad leaves to provide some garden shelter.
  5. Water regularly and heavily. It’s always interesting to water, then put one’s finger in the soil, and check to see the depth of the saturation. I am usually surprised at how shallow the moisture is. Water deeply. The deeper the water soaks the longer it remains in the ground available to plant roots. Quick watering will keep plants perked up, but also cause their roots to remain shallow. This will cause trouble when the high summer sun begins to bake that soil.

Till next time…Keep gardening!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pests: Squash vine borer

Every year that we have planted yellow and zucchini squash we have had problems with the squash vine borer. The moth (pictured below) lays its eggs on the vine or under the leaf of squash plants. When the egg hatches the grub moves into the vine and feeds on the inside of the plant. Most of the time you don't realize the grubs are there until it is too late. One day you walk out and see your beautiful plant fallen over on its side.

Here's a picture of the inside of the stem. If you look closely you can see the small white grubs with black heads. Those are the pests!

The eggs are so tiny but if you look hard on the base of the plant you can see them.

Once the grub is done eating it moves under ground to complete its life cycle and later emerges as a moth. 

We have tried several things to get rid of the pests. Two years ago, we ordered some beneficial nematodes from Planet Natural that we applied to the soil. The nematodes attack and hopefully destroy or at least decrease the population of grubs that are in the ground. This year we will be applying BT to help fight the tiny pests. BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) is a safe alternative to regular pesticides and insecticides. Agorganics has a great article on the benefits of using the product. You can find BT locally at garden centers or order it online.

Another way to try to find the bugs is to carefully cut into the stem of the plant and dig out the grubs. If the stem is not damaged too much the plant will survive.

Some people I talk to have completely given up growing these summer squash. Well, we haven't done that yet. We are growing a few this year. The good thing is that even if your plants become infested with the bugs you can usually get some fruit before total destruction.

We have found that butternut squash are not as susceptible to the pests. Another winter squash that our seed catalog claims to resist the vine borer is trombone squash. We are growing those for the first time this year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Beautiful Spring Harvest

It's that time of year again. We are bringing in tons of greens. For example, one day this week I went out at about 11:00 am and picked a handful of lettuce, baby bok choi, sweet peas, radishes, and green onions and mixed it all together for a salad for lunch.

We ordered a scale to keep track of the amount of veggies we bring in. We keep it on the counter and weigh everything before putting it away. We are keeping record of it all on a clip board for now but I plan on charting it as we get in more food.

For the first weigh in we measured 11.5 oz of spinach, 26 oz of sweet peas, 9 radishes, 22 oz lettuce, 15 oz baby bok choi, 1.5 lbs of bigger bak choi, 1 lb young turnip greens.

And our spinach is huge.

We loved looking at it so much we just had to take a picture! Is it  because of the compost tea?

This is the bak choi bed. This is an asian green that we use just like the other greens--in stir fries, steamed or chopped really thin in salads. We like it because it is a more heat tolerant than salad greens and more tender than traditional southern greens.

Here's the lettuce bed.

I got a new lens for my birthday and tried it out on some flowers from the yard. These are daisies that we planted last summer. Beautiful, right?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spring Gardening (April)

I love this time of year. I get to harvest fresh salads and greens every morning! I take my basket outside and pick the biggest heads of butter crunch and red leaf, a few leaves of chard, kale, or collards, some mesculin mix, and a head of broccoli (that's what's pictured below). We should have enough planted to do green harvests like this for another month. I store all this in the fridge for the day then wash and prepare with dinner tonight. I'll add some nuts, fresh green onions, and oil and vinegar. Yum!The winter/spring garden is nice because there aren't as many bugs and pests out yet. The onions, potatoes, and garlic don't require much water or extra feeding. Basically they go in the ground and we don't really worry about them till harvest which should be coming soon.

This is just a picture of another harvest from a few days ago. Being in the garden with all the colors, textures, and sounds is such a nice way to start the day!
This is a portion of the broccoli bed which is growing nicely.
Here's a row of lettuces, cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccolli, and onions.
Lettuce up close.

Originally posted April 27, 2009

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Mother's Day Harvest and Summer Planting

As I mentioned in an earlier post we are keeping track of all the produce we harvest by weighing it and charting it on a clip board in the kitchen. Here is the harvest amounts from Sunday.
  • 1.5 lbs collards
  • 1 lb 4 oz kale (lacinato)
  • 2.5 lbs lettuce (butter crunch and green leaf)
  • 10 oz spinach
  • 4 oz peas
  • 1 lb 4 oz radish (or about 10)

Now you might be wondering what we do with all these greens! Stay tuned for recipes and ideas. Believe it or not by Wednesday night we have already gone through everything but a few ounces of lettuce and collards.

On Sunday, we also planted most of the summer veggies that we started from seed including zuchinni, yellow squash, trombone squash, cucumber, pole beans, cantelope, eggplant, basil, more Swiss chard and bok choi. I re-potted the tomatoes since we have to wait for garden space to come available. Okra, bush beans, sweet potatoes, and watermelon are still waiting to be planted.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spring Gardening (May) Harvest

Here's another harvest from earlier this week. We are definitely eating enough servings of greens these days!
I mentioned that we'll be getting greens like this for a month. I want to clarify that it won't be exactly like this for very long. We are noticing that the broccoli is already flowering and some of the lettuce is already beginning to bolt, but we will be able to harvest other lettuce (planted in shady spots in the garden), kale and chard for some time.

I am a little surprised that the broccoli didn't last longer.  Both the broccoli and the lettuce that bolted were bought as seedlings from Lowe's so I'm not sure what varieties they are. Most of the lettuces that we ordered from Cook's Garden and started from seed are still growing and doing fine.

I took some more pictures of the garden for this week. These next two pictures were taken from the same spot. The one below is mostly cold season stuff -- lettuce, chard, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts. We took up the broccoli salad greens that we had in the back left corner. They were attacked by flea beetles and never really formed any kind of broccoli-like head. Then, we put down some collard seedlings we started a while ago. Then, they were attacked by what we think were the flea beetle larvae. We found little black wormy caterpillar looking things eating the collards leaves. We tried to save them with diatomaceous earth but I think it was too late. There are a few collards left in that spot, and we put some hot peppers in with them. The peppers haven't been bothered by the beetles yet.

The next photo is of the middle three rows which are the classic summer veggies. The cukes, eggplants, tomatoes, squash,  basil, and cantelope were started from seed indoors. The bush beans and okra we direct seeded after the frost date. Things are looking pretty nice so far.  To the right of this picture are the onions, potatoes, garlic, lettuce and peas.
Here's a picture of the damage done by the flea beetles. These are baby eggplants that we started indoors. They are about 4-6 inches tall now. We also bought some bigger eggplant last weekend just in case we lose these guys.
We are using diatomaceous earth to control the flea beetles and it works really well. This organic treatment was recommended to us by our friends at Five Leaves Farm (the local CSA). It is a white powder that you can sprinkle on and around plants to keep any kind of small creatures/pests away. I've heard it being used for slugs, beetles, fleas, and even roaches around the home. It is made of the skeletal remains of tiny unicellular plants that are very sharp to a tiny pest. This is the first year that I've seen it at Lowe's hardware and you can also find it at a local nursery or seed and feed.

Below is our newly planted bed of peppers. Since we were only able to get a few peppers to grow from seed indoors we bought 4 different kids of pepper plants last weekend. We planted them here in this bed where we had winter greens. There are pole beans and snow peas growing up a trellis on the porch behind them.
Lastly, this is a bed of butternut squash and pole beans. I've also planted some seminole pumpkin seeds in the middle. We've never grown these pumpkins but a friend suggested them after having success with them last year. These pumpkins and the butternut squash are supposed to be less susceptible to the vine borer bug. We are hoping to win the battle against squash vine borers in this bed this year!

Originally posted May 5, 2009

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Checking the temperature of one our compost piles

We always have a big compost pile in the back corner of the yard. This time we started the pile with mostly horse manure and leaves from other people's yards. After turning and watering it we tracked the temperature every day. The first day after turning it was 80 degrees (same as temp. outside). The next day it was about 90, then the next day 100-110. The temp steadily increased and by the 4th day it was at 140. We were very excited!We will turn it again soon. I should post a more detailed description of composting or at least what we do in case anyone reading would like to start one. Here is a great article I read online that can get anyone started turning their yard and kitchen waste into "gardener's gold." Of course you can find books all about it at your local library too :)

Originally posted May 11, 2008

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Garden Planting (March 2009)

Today is the first day of Spring and it has been a gorgeous day. I've been taking pictures throughout the week of some things we are doing in the yard. We have lots of winter stuff coming up in the 3 long rows that we have started. Most of them are transplants that we started from seed in January. We did have to replace a few of our plants with store bought ones. We had a hard freeze for several days after we planted and we lost a few. We were not discouraged and took it as a learning experience. Note: It is a good idea to check the weather and not plant during a week of hard freezes next year!

Here's a picture of the seed trays we started in early March.

Here's another picture of the garden from the other side. Our potatoes are starting to sprout (hills on the bottom left of picture). We got these seed potatoes from a neighbor who said he grew up on a farm and that we needed to plant them in February to get the best results. They were just potatoes that sprouted in his cabinet. They are all coming up. We had already bought about 10 lbs of organic seed potatoes. We'll have to find another place for them somewhere else in the yard. Onions (started in Feb.) are in middle bed and garlic (started in Nov.) all the way to right of picture.

Originally posted March 20, 2009