Sunday, September 26, 2010

Progress of My Second Crop of Organic Vegetables For This Year.

Bagworms from the neighbor's trees came over and ate the potato plants that were growing nicely in this barrel. I decided that I would plant beets to see how they would do in a barrel as opposed to being in the garden where I had great difficulty with them. I planted the beet seeds in the barrel on September 21st, and they were scheduled to sprout in around 10 to 14 days.

Much to my surprise and delight, when I went out to check on them on the fourth day after they were planted, they had all sprouted. Since I had problems getting them to germinate in the garden the last time I tried, I sure thought it would also be difficult in a barrel container. However, it appears as if germination was close to 100% in only four days.

As with the other root crops, I had extreme trouble for the last three years getting carrots to germinate. After my tomatoberry plant finished producing in the container it was in, I cleaned the debris out and sowed carrot seed in the same container. This is how it looks after I thinned the plants out a little. Of all the carrot seed I planted in years past, none of them ever got to this stage of growth.

This is fennel that I have decided to grow mainly for the sake of the Monarch butterflies. When we visited Bluebird Gap Farm in Newport News, they showed me a patch of fennel that measured about four feet square that has been growing there for over ten years. The fennel was much taller than I was, and that really surprised me. On top of looking very nice, though, it served a more important purpose. It was the food supply for hundreds of monarch butterfly caterpillars, and they were having a feast.

I tried to capture the monarch caterpillars on film, and this is the result. Even the monarch caterpillars are pretty to look at. When I saw their intense activity on this group of plants, I knew I had to plant some fennel for them in my garden. So I am growing fennel for the butterflies, and when the plants get large enough, I will transfer them all to a similar patch in my back yard for the benefit of the butterflies there.

When these leeks grow a little larger, I'm going to transplant them into the garden where they can grow until next spring. Then it will be time for some more leek and potato soup.

These are the green onions for cooking that I bought from WalMart. After I used the scallions (green tops), I stuck the rest of each onion in this flower pot and they grew some more scallions for me to use. It was better to do that than throw them on the compost pile. Now I have more of them. You can also see my French Tarragon. I will get a second cutting off of it this year. I just have to make sure I get it before the frost does.

Here is some of the second planting of dill in one of three pots that I prepared. When it is not hot summertime, some things don't grow as fast, but they still grow.

The Schav, or lemongrass, will give me one more picking this year. Next year I would like to have it in the garden somewhere instead of a flower pot. I think it will grow better.

This two year old horseradish plant is browning out as autumn comes in. I'll harvest it in the late fall, and shred the roots for some delicious horseradish.

The butter beans next to the fortex snap beans are looking very good for the second crop this year. Both the butter beans and the snap beans are covered with blossoms, and the butterflies and bees are having a field day.

Here are some pics of my Fortex snap beans.

You can see the snap beans are already 4 to 5 inches long. When ready for harvest, they will be 10 to 12 inches long. They have an excellent flavor!

Now come the butternut squash pics.

The butternut squash are doing pretty good right now. There are many of them that have formed already and are growing.

The chayote, or vegetable pear, was supposed to be a heavy bearer of fruits that were supposed to be harvested in September. Well, September is almost gone, and they don't even have a bloom. Not one. I invested a lot of time trying to get it to grow here. Next season, I'll be planting something else in its place.

All three types of grapes are doing very well this year. The vines continue to grow vigorously, and I still have to tie them every few days to the main wires that support the vines. I believe that if the vines are growing this well, the roots must be growing very well too. That is very important for next year's vines.

Remember in a previous post I told you about the portable sprinkler I got for my birthday? Well, I ended up returning it because it kept hanging up in one position. Rather than fighting that, I just went back to my spray wand for irrigation.

Here is the spray pattern from my wand. While it's gentle, it really puts out the volume of water necessary to make a relatively quick job of watering the garden. I get my irrigation water from a shallow well that draws from the aquifer just 9 feet below the ground surface. It is delivered to the hose by a new 220 volt, 3/4 horsepower well pump equipped with a pressure switch and a pressure tank. It works great!

I actively work my compost pile. These are my brandywine tomato vines that I shredded with the lawn mower on September 11th.

These are the tomato vines after 14 days, and having been turned 4 or 5 times. Quite a difference.

This is an up close look at the current condition of the shredded vines. When I blend in a few bags of fresh grass clippings, the composting process will really accelerate.

Once again, I thank you for letting me share my organic vegetable gardening experiences with you. As always, I hope you found it interesting and inspiring, hopefully prompting you to plant something for your fall crop. Norfolk County Feed & Seed has cool weather plants for purchasing so you don't have to try germinating seeds at this time of year in order to grow vegetables for your fall garden. The plants will be a great head start. They have a nice assortment, so you can purchase what you like, and stick it in the ground and see how it does. You won't regret it. On top of getting vegetables, you'll get experience growing them. That is ALWAYS useful to look back on, and it provides you with the confidence you need to go on with your vegetable gardening.

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See you next time!

Veggie PAK

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hampton Roads is a Multi-Season Area for Growing Vegetables

The second crop of butter beans and snap beans are doing well. Both have blossoms throughout so we should start seeing the beans developing soon. At the top of the snap bean fence, the vines grow straight up into the air looking for more fence to climb onto. When they get to be about 14 inches high, I'll bend them over horizontally to braid them into the fence as well as the surrounding vines. This keeps them from collapsing and breaking when there is a strong breeze. I have braided them four times already during this second crop season.


Honey bee

The bumble bees and honey bees are more than happy to help with pollinating the plants this time of year. Not many other flowers are blooming now.

In addition to the bumblebees and honey bees, I also have other pollinators helping me. This is a pretty one that landed on my shoulder several times while I was watering the garden.

These are bush pickle cucumber blooms for the bees to pollinate as well. When I harvest these cucumbers, I plan to make pickles in the actual stone crocks that my grandmother used when she came to America. I am fortunate enough to have one of the cobblestones that she used to weigh down the board to keep the pickles submerged so they would ferment properly.

To the right of my butter beans, I have planted sugar pumpkins. These pumpkins are supposed to grow to be about five pounds each and are used for baking. This is a race against the weather right up front. The scheduled maturity date is December 22nd. If they develop any fruits, I will surely have to harvest them before that date. To the right of the pumpkins and in line with the row of large pepper plants, eggplants and between the green fence posts, are burpless cucumbers. They usually grow rather quickly. I hope to be picking several of them before the first frost hits and kills the plants.

As we go on to the right of those plants, we have two rows of Brussels sprouts. They are a good cool/cold weather crop.

To the right of the Brussels sprouts there is an empty row. I'm debating what to plant there at this late date. It depends on whether or not I can buy more plants from Norfolk County Feed & Seed. The dark soil is my row of Ruby Red Swiss chard. I keep the soil moist, not wet, to aid in the germination of the seed scheduled to be germinating around the 24th of this month. Swiss chard fares very well through our winters. Next to that, you can see the leeks I have planted at the far end of the row. I plan on filling the rest of that row, perhaps putting in another row to plant the leeks that I have growing from seed in a flat.

I sowed the leek seeds in this flat and they are very actively germinating now. They were supposed to start germinating in 15 days, and 3 or 4 did. The majority of them have taken a good three weeks to begin. Last year, my leeks lasted through the light winter snows to springtime with great success.

Once again, I thank you for taking your time to visit my organic vegetable blog. I hope it will inspire other people to try growing multiple crops of vegetables during our favorable weather conditions. It is worth the time and trouble to have your own home-grown food for your family.


Veggie PAK

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tomato Vines and Composting.

Having trained the tomato vines this year to stay inside the wire cages has paid off in an unexpected way. When it came time to pull the plants out of the ground, all I had to do was gather all the vines together at the top of the cage for each individual plant, pull that group of vines with two hands until the roots broke loose, and then lift it straight up out of the cage. It required no fighting the cage at all, because the three foot long metal fence post that I used on each cage held them pretty firmly in place.

After removing the tomato vines, I untied the fence post from the cage, lifted the cage up, and pulled any stray weeds from the cage material so it would be ready for next year. Then I pulled up the post and stacked them as well. It was all well worth the trouble of keeping the vines growing inside the cages by checking each one every day or two. Another benefit from using the field fencing material for the cages was that when the cages were bent or distorted from their original cylindrical shape, all it required to straighten them out was a little tug here and there. No forceful bending was required because the fencing material is wound, not welded.

As I removed each plant, I piled them up by the edge of the garden where I would be able to run the lawn mower over them to prepare them for composting. That requires some work, but it's well worth it for accelerating the composting process.

This is one of my tomato vines that I just couldn't resist measuring. From the base of the plant, not the root, to the end of the majority of the vines, it measured 13 feet! That's a big tomato plant!

As you can see, 23 tomato plants of that size make quite a pile to mulch up with a lawn mower. But, it will sure be worth it for the resulting benefits for the compost pile.

After mowing them up, pile by pile, there would be these residual vines that escaped the blade of the mower. I would just take a lawn rake and rake them up into a pile, then raise the front of the mower up and lower it onto the pile. Upon completion of the mulching of the vines, to clean the area of the small pieces that would smother the grass, I used the lawn rake again and raked those residual clippings onto the garden area for tilling into the soil later on.

As you can see in the area after the tomato plants were removed, in my opinion, there was a low occurrence of weed growth due to the thick vines blocking out the sun so the weed seeds couldn't germinate.

Here are the processed tomato vines in my hot composting area. In their mulched form, they are a welcome addition to my composting efforts. I have been composting for a few years now. One of the main things I have learned through trial and error is that the smaller the pieces, the faster and more thorough the composting process. I try to make it a practise to turn my compost pile every three or four days.

Here is a picture for a size comparison between the mulched tomato vines and an ordinary ink pen. Notice that the vast majority of the vines are now small to tiny pieces. The microbes that perform the composting process work in from the edge of the material. Therefore, the more edges you provide for the microbes, the faster the composting process, and the greater the heat generated by their activity. Their activity consumes oxygen. That's why I think it is very important to turn the compost every three or four days to replenish the oxygen and keep the composting process going at full speed. Just think, if you only roughly chopped the vines into shorter lengths, say a foot or so, how much longer would that add to the composting process? Combine only rough chopping with not turning the pile and you can essentially add months if not years to the composting process. I need my compost before that length of time. I have read extensively on the composting process, and I disagree with most of what I have read and have watched in videos. But that discussion will be for another time.

This is what my blended compost looks like in the hot pile. When I turn the pile in three or four days from now, the green material will all be a yellowish brown. When I turn it the next time, it will all be brown. It will still need routine turning to replenish the oxygen, so I'll keep it up. If you are so inclined, you could turn it everyday, just for the exercise. You can really see the advancement of the composting process that way. It's like a science experiment.

Well, that's all for this posting. It's raining lightly today so I can't till the soil. Tomorrow, I'll probably be tilling up the remainder of the garden that hasn't been planted with cool weather crops, getting it ready for the rest of my vegetables.

Thanks for visiting and happy vegetable gardening!

Veggie PAK